08/16/2010 02:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Congress, Make Our DREAMs of Economic Prosperity a Reality

With Congress out for the summer recess, senators and representatives have gone home to rev up for the midterm election. While they have managed to enact some notable and transformative measures in the last year, there is one issue that still suffers from excessive political posturing, impeding the progress that it deserves: immigration reform. Some state and local politicians are following Washington's example of exploiting voters' frustrations while failing to deliver real solutions. The most egregious examples include the adoption of SB 1070 in Arizona, which attempts to legitimize racial profiling, and the rise of proposals in Congress to tamper with birthright citizenship, a bedrock principle of our Constitution and society. While Republicans are leading the charge on these proposals, Democrats have tagged along for the ride. Last week, Democrats in Congress rushed to support the false premise that increased spending alone is the way to go by signing a $600 million border security bill.

The ultimate losers in this equation are the American public, especially the families and communities left to grapple with the consequences of incendiary rhetoric without meaningful action. Congress understands full well that a sound law-and-order approach requires fixing the dysfunctional legal immigration system by putting in place smart enforcement measures and creating a mechanism to allow those who are here illegally to come forward and start a path toward obtaining legal status. Congress understands this, yet until it acts responsibly, all it will have to show for itself are 30-second campaign ads and untenable human, social, and economic costs. The vast majority of Americans support a comprehensive solution to our immigration problems, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) will continue the fight until immigration reform is secured for our communities and country. In the meantime, Congress would do well to act on a measure that has been entangled in the immigration debate for far too long and has great potential to deliver significant economic benefits.

The "Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act" (S. 729) and its companion bill, the "American Dream Act" (H.R. 1751), are measures that would address one of the most glaring inadequacies of our immigration laws. They are targeted toward young members of our society who are for all intents and purposes American, have excelled academically, and wish to contribute to our nation's well-being but cannot because they lack legal immigration status. The "DREAM Act" would address these challenges by establishing a means for these students to become legally present if they can prove that they are long-term residents of the United States and satisfy certain education or military service requirements. From a moral, economic, and policy perspective, America cannot afford to lose another generation of young people who stand to contribute to its economic and social prosperity.

NCLR has an extensive history of advocating for greater educational advancement as a means of enhancing our nation's economic vitality. That is one of the prime reasons why we have worked on this legislation since its inception. It is clear that in order to maintain our competitiveness in the global economy, we must continue to produce a highly educated workforce. Just last week, President Obama spoke about education as the economic issue of our time and emphasized the need to boost college completion rates so our country does not continue to fall behind in the global arena. The "DREAM Act" is perfectly aligned with these goals. Many of the potential beneficiaries of this legislation attend our colleges and universities, and in some cases even enroll in graduate programs, due to their extraordinary academic abilities, yet they are never able to put their degrees to use for our society's benefit. They include future doctors, engineers, teachers, and public servants who have already made remarkable contributions to their communities and have every desire to give back to our country. The U.S. has invested in the education of many of these individuals since kindergarten, and it is only proper that we enable them to fully contribute through their merits and service.

The rationale for the "DREAM Act" is clear and compelling. Congress needs to put its weight behind this proposal for what it is: a measure geared toward young people to promote future economic prosperity. Those who have not yet co-sponsored this legislation should explain why they are standing in the way of progress. And when it comes to immigration, they should keep in mind that Latino voters will take stock of who is just trying to score points with political ads and who is actually delivering the comprehensive solutions our country needs.

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