If you knew that passing legislation to allow 2.1 million American students to pursue higher education or military service, our government could collect $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years, would you do it?
We think you would. That's why we support the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. After years of advocacy, we are hopeful that it can pass the House and Senate before Congress adjourns in December.
The DREAM Act is bipartisan, offering a conditional six-year path to legal permanent U.S. residence for immigrant youth brought here as children. They need to complete high school, demonstrate good moral character and complete at least two years of higher education or U.S. military service.
Without the DREAM Act, about 65,000 students a year -- honor-roll students, star athletes, talented artists and aspiring teachers -- graduate high school and then hit a roadblock. Instead of entering college or the military, and gaining upward mobility and higher education, they are forced to live in the shadows and work low-paying jobs.
Researchers estimate that this nightmare is a reality for up to 2.1 million current and graduated high-school students across the country -- a quarter in California. Many students are leaders -- like Pedro Ramirez, president of the Cal State Fresno student body -- poised to make great contributions to our nation. If we only allow them the opportunity.
The DREAM Act could convert these 2.1 million students into a taxable cohort of individuals, who could contribute additional trillions of dollars into our still-struggling economy. Their earning power over the next 40 years (in current dollars) is $3.6 trillion, according to a new report from the University of California, Los Angeles' North American Integration and Development Center -- not to mention the significant return on investment in youth that the public school system educates in their K-12 years.
San Jose residents, for example, would encourage our highly motivated students to study at Santa Clara University, San Jose State or Stanford and then succeed in Silicon Valley, as the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, rather than watch them finish high school and get left behind -- their dreams stifled and potential untapped.
The need for the DREAM Act, however, goes beyond its economic benefits. In California, none of us are strangers to the heartbreaking stories of the high-achieving students who work hard in high school, but whose immigration status limits their ability to fully participate in our community.
Hardworking students -- like Steve "Shing Ma" Li of the City College of San Francisco, who did nothing wrong, but now faces deportation to Peru, where he has no friends or family -- should not be punished for circumstances beyond their control. Most were brought here at an age when they had no say, and have since overcome language barriers and often poverty to succeed. Their unfortunate situation could be resolved in a targeted manner with the DREAM Act.
The irony behind the DREAM Act's name is that its advocates are not remotely dreamy-eyed about what we are promoting. We have 65,000 high school graduates ready each year to contribute to our economy -- but without the mechanisms to do so.
Providing a clear pathway to earned legalization is a small investment with a big return. Hundreds of thousands of high school graduates stand ready and waiting to help our economy.
The gains are too inviting to ignore, and these students' dreams too promising to pass up. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have both expressed their intention to bring the DREAM Act for a vote in the coming weeks.
We strongly urge both chambers to pass this long overdue bill.
Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) is the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Marcine Seid is a San Jose immigration attorney and serves on the board of governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Follow Rep. Mike Honda on Twitter: www.twitter.com/repmikehonda