Over 11 years ago, a new, bipartisan bill was introduced on the on the Senate floor. This piece of legislation, aptly entitled the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, had the potential then -- and still has the potential now -- to transform individual lives, communities, and the nation as a whole.
The main goal of the DREAM Act is to start young students who were brought into the country illegally on the road to citizenship. Keep in mind that this is a lengthy process, and that these children have been living as full-fledged Americans for years. They may not speak any language other than English, and most have been attending American schools for as long as they can remember. While in the past, such students have had to face threats of deportation and regulations restricting their access to higher education upon graduation, under the DREAM Act, new doors might be opened that would ultimately lead them on the path to citizenship.
Under the 2009 version of the Senate bill, all DREAM Act beneficiaries must meet a few requirements: They must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, must have proof of residence in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years since their date of arrival, must have graduated from an American high school, and must be of "good moral character." They then would be granted the chance to attend a two-year or four-year college or join the armed services for at least two years, would emerge armed with education and permanent residency, and would eventually be able to become full-fledged U.S. citizens.
The DREAM Act, in its original form, would be revolutionary. With more brainpower in colleges and universities, more educated students would emerge, leading to more advances in different fields. The military would also grow, with more soldiers to defend the U.S. borders and protect interests overseas. On an even broader level, the beneficiaries of this act would develop an undying loyalty to the country that gave them the gift of a brighter future.
Aside from changing lives and living up to the basic American ideals of welcome and assimilation, the country would even benefit economically. In a December 2010 report, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the most recent version of the DREAM Act would "reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period" and "increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years."
Despite being introduced as a bipartisan bill, the DREAM Act has since lost Republican support. As the party base has shifted to the right, some Senate Republicans such as John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and John Cornyn of Texas, who originally voted in favor of the bill, revoked their support. Even more importantly, however, is the so called "new" version of the DREAM Act that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has been floating around. In this stripped-down, dreamless version of the bill, Rubio intends on legalizing young unauthorized immigrants without ever granting them citizenship. "You can legalize someone's status," he said, "without placing them on a path toward citizenship." This harsh measure would in essence create an entire group of people with second-class status. After all, those subject to this proposal will be living, working, and paying taxes in the only country they have ever known, but will never be allowed the right to vote or exercise the full rights of citizenship.
It is clear that Rubio, a rising star in the party with possible vice-presidential aspirations, wants to curry favor with both conservatives and Latino voters. As the only Senator with Hispanic heritage currently serving in Congress, he can appeal to Hispanics by making it seem that he is out to help undocumented youth, while simultaneously appealing to conservatives and Tea Partiers by vehemently opposing what the Democratic Party desires. However, just beneath the surface, the truth is evident: This watered-down version of an previously-revolutionary bill would not help anyone aside from the GOP. Only the authentic DREAM Act that would bring hope to lives of undocumented youth who long to be a true part of the country that has been their home for so many years.
The original DREAM Act should be reintroduced and fought over at the next appropriate time. While some states have already passed similar measures, its passage on the national level would send a strong message to its beneficiaries and to the world, and would result in long-term benefits for the country. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has been bold enough to admit that her grandfather arrived in the U.S. "without documents" only to experience his granddaughter being elected to the highest office in the state. This is just one example of success though hard work; who knows how many of those that would qualify for the DREAM Act could be future policymakers, authors, scientists, or Nobel laureates. With the growing opposition against Rubio's version and protests for all students in the country to have equal opportunities, one thing is clear: The only DREAM Act worth passing is the one that would actually give students the chance to dream.