No matter where you live, it's hard not to see that we are experiencing one of the toughest times in our nation's history. So it isn't surprising to see the kind of rhetoric that tries to pit Americans -- immigrants and citizens, black, whites, Asians and Hispanics, Catholics, Jews and Muslims -- against each other for what some would say are limited resources.
I am reminded of an episode from my days in the Army. Surrounded by the Chinese and in need of reinforcements, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Vines got on the phone and told his superiors, "We need replacement or we've got to get out of here." They responded that there were "no colored replacements."
Just two years earlier in 1948, President Truman signed an Executive Order to integrate the military and outlawed discrimination. Yet the reality was that regiments were still divided along color lines. This mattered little to Lt. Col. Vines: "I don't care what color they are. You send someone up here to defend this country or we're pulling out of here." He knew that what mattered most was not how people looked or where they came from, but their commitment to their country.
This is where we find ourselves today and why the DREAM ACT is so important. At a time when this nation is in desperate need for scientists, researchers, teachers and other professionals, why are we unwilling to allow some of the best and brightest students in our country to help America maintain its greatness? Many of these students may have arrived here illegally by their parents, but they have been raised as Americans. They salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. They are Boy Scouts, prom queens and class valedictorians. And they too want to give back by becoming professionals or serving in the military.
If morality does not move the Senate, then sheer economic self-interest should. The more our talented students are forced into the dark in fear of being deported, the greater the loss in potential tax revenue. In some of them we might just have the next Einstein, the next Bill Gates, or the next great American who might discover a cure for cancer or employ thousands of workers. The impact of such wasted talent is felt not just in our wallets, but in the ability of our economy to grow and remain globally competitive.
We have already invested so much in our future. To deny students the opportunity to reach their potential solely based on their legal status is both morally and economically wrong. This is time for us not to retreat but to move forward and support the DREAM Act.
The Spanish version of this article, "¿Por qué el Dream Act es tan importante?" was originally publised in El Diario/La Pensa on December 12, 2010.