12/11/2010 10:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

America Cannot Afford to Let the DREAM Act Die in the Senate

On Wednesday night, the United States House of Representatives passed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act - also known as the DREAM Act - by a vote of 216-198. I commend the House for its courageous action. But in order for DREAM to become law, the same bill must also be passed by the Senate. The vote will likely take place sometime this week. The DREAM Act would grant undocumented young people, who were brought to the U.S. before they had the legal right to make decisions for themselves, hope for a better future and a better life, by providing them with an opportunity to earn "conditional nonimmigrant status," if they pay processing fees and any outstanding federal taxes, show that they are of good moral character, have not been convicted of certain crimes and are not a public charge. If they finish high school, and then join the military or attend college, after 13 years they would be permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship. But in the meantime, these individuals would be allowed to work in the U.S. with full labor and employment rights, and would no longer live in fear of being deported to a country they barely remember and whose language they might not speak.

Giving the undocumented youth of America the opportunity to someday serve in the armed services and to become educated, tax-paying participants in the U.S. labor market will be win-win situation for them and the country. The entire economy will benefit from their education and full participation in our economic life.

There is an enormous difference between the yearly earnings of high school dropouts and high school graduates on the one hand, and of college graduates on the other. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a full-time U.S. worker over the age of 25, who has graduated with a Bachelor's degree will earn, on average, $22,000 more per year than a worker with only a high school diploma, and $31,000 more than a worker without a high school diploma. For those with advanced degrees, yearly earnings are an additional $17,000 greater. Multiply this amount by a lifetime of labor force participation, and you get an idea of just how much money the economy could lose in consumption spending and investments, and that governments would not collect in tax revenue if potential DREAM Act beneficiaries can't go to college.

Without the DREAM Act, undocumented high school graduates may be unable to enroll in university or reluctant to do so because they reasonably fear they could be removed from the United States before they have completed their university studies, but after they've invested the significant amounts of time and money required to apply, enroll and attend. Many undocumented students will be discouraged from even finishing high school, because of the lack of prospects to continue their education.

The DREAM Act operates as an incentive for educational and career achievement to those undocumented students who are already enrolled in our school systems. As taxpayers, we have already invested in their K-12 education and will continue to do so (under Plyler v Doe, a Supreme Court ruling, undocumented students are entitled to receive K-12 education). DREAM should be passed in order to reap the returns on this investment. Furthermore, in light of the looming demographic changes we face as a nation, this is particularly important because these younger, better educated and higher earning taxpayers will help sustain the social safety nets that protect our rapidly aging population.

The U.S. Armed Forces and a number of current and former military leaders also support passage of the DREAM Act. This is unsurprising, given the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the global network of approximately 1,000 American military bases operating around the world. Because of this, the Department of Defense's need for able-bodied young people will continue. The Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness reflected this sentiment, recently stating that the DREAM Act would positively impact recruiting, even if the military's current recruiting targets are being met. The continuation of strenuous multiple redeployments for soldiers, plus the possibility of new or escalating conflicts in other regions could suddenly increase demand for new recruits. With tuition costs as high as they are, joining the armed forces could become a logical choice for many DREAM Act beneficiaries.

The President, Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Homeland Security, Mayor of New York and many other prominent political leaders support the DREAM Act. Many prominent conservatives are on record strongly supporting the DREAM Act. Numerous editorial boards, including those of two major conservative publications, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, have expressed their support. Labor unions and large corporations such as Microsoft, Citigroup and News Corp. also support the DREAM Act. According to two major polls conducted this year, a majority of Americans are in favor of DREAM. In other words, the proposed law enjoys broad-based support, among conservative, centrist and progressive policymakers, business leaders, opinion-makers and the public.

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the bill would not contribute to increasing the deficit over the next decade.

For the reasons outlined above, I strongly support the passage of the DREAM Act. Beyond the obvious economic, political and societal benefits for our country, as Americans we also have a moral obligation to protect a vulnerable and faultless population of law-abiding young people in our midst. Those who have proven to be talented and determined enough to better themselves despite all odds - and are willing to fight and die for America - but until now, have been forced to live a life of secrecy and fear - should no longer be demonized, whatever their parents' transgressions may have been.