Right now, at this very moment, the future of thousands of kids is being decided in Washington.
Will they have the opportunity to join America as productive members of society - or will they be shunted to the margins, forced to live lives of under-achievement and ostracism?
The DREAM Act, a piece of game-changing legislation that would create a conditional path towards citizenship for kids brought to this country by their undocumented parents, is now being considered for passage before the mid-term election.
According to the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, the DREAM Act would address a significant problem impacting thousands of kids:
Currently, individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally years ago through no fault of their own have no way to legalize their immigration status and go to college to improve their lives. The DREAM Act would address this problem by providing that upon graduation from high school, young people who have stayed in school and out of trouble would be able to apply for conditional legal immigration status. This status would be made permanent if they continue on to college or serve in the military. Students applying for these benefits would have to meet certain criteria, including earning a high school diploma, demonstrating good moral character, and passing criminal and security clearances.
The rational, economic and moral arguments in favor of the DREAM Act's passage are clear. As New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently said, our current immigration policy is a "national suicide pact." We need to work towards comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the strategic needs of our country. And the DREAM Act is a great place to start.
While the opposition cries out that the DREAM Act is a kind of back door amnesty for undocumented workers, it is actually a sensible, rational strategy to meet America's economic and social needs.
Denying educational opportunities to young people that can add to the nation's human and financial capital is simply not a smart national policy. Can you think of any culture that has survived suppressing its young people's dreams and aspirations? A country that has been successful by keeping its children from education?
To both Democrats and Republicans (and the bill does have bipartisan support) that have set their eyes on the growing Latino vote with equal parts desire and dread, the DREAM Act will give them the opportunity to send Americans of Latino descent a clear message of inclusion and respect if enacted. We will not forget who stood with us.
Rejection of the DREAM Act will also be a clear signal to millions of Latino voters across the country.
Ultimately, I believe that smart politicians will chose to support the DREAM Act. Both Republicans and Democrats should support it, in part, because of basic fairness - these kids came to the U.S. as children, and therefore have never had a role in their own status.
Moreover, having been academically and socially successful in the U.S., these kids are now ready to add to the human capital of our economy. Does not rational self-interest call for their inclusion, through the DREAM Act, into our country's growth and future economic success?
And their future is no small matter for speeding-up our national economic growth engine. In a recent report published by the United States Federal Reserve Bank called "The Effect of Immigrants on U.S. Employment and Productivity," the overwhelmingly positive impact of immigration is quantitatively established. Simply put, immigrants raise the standard of living of all workers in the American economy.
This report is a significant, policy setting view of the the value of immigration. It makes a powerful argument for why we must get our immigration policy working at optimum levels of efficiency in order to meet the nation's need for workers of all talents and qualifications - and continue to generate positive effects across the economy.
Rational national self-interest is the overarching reason for supporting the DREAM Act.
But there is, perhaps, an even more powerful argument for enacting this bill. The DREAM Act is a quintessentially American idea. Fairness, common sense and logic drive it. It connects to the fundamental American Zeitgeist.
In fact, the vision of the Founding Fathers is very much in sync with the goals of the DREAM Act. They understood that a successful, democratic republic could only be maintained through an educated, engaged citizenry.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
Congress, for the good of America, it's time to pass the DREAM Act.