It is time for the White House and Congress to put their money where their mouths are and start getting serious about immigration reform. The Republicans have been bringing the focus of Americans on reducing the national debt by reducing spending, forcing Obama and the Democrats to put their promises of immigration reform on the back burner. Immigration reform can, itself, help the country reduce spending. Both sides can have their way and prove they are serious about their mandates by taking the first step and finally getting the DREAM Act passed.
During my days working at a homeless shelter in Washington DC, I met one client who happened to be an undocumented immigrant. He was in his 20s. When he was still a child his parents illegally entered the United States forcing him into a new country and leaving behind all he knew back home. Later on in his life his parents struggled and went back home. However, since he knew nothing other than the U.S., he decided to stay. He now lives on the streets in Washington DC, taking advantage of the programs, funded both locally and federally.
I am not suggesting that funding be cut for social services such as health, food and shelter programs for the homeless, but the truth is that many people use these services because they came here "illegally" as minors. They were simply following their parents. These children cannot be blamed for their situation because you cannot hold a child responsible for obeying his/her parents. Some of these children may grow up and get jobs. A few may manage to get in school and get an education. But many of them will end up falling through the cracks, through no fault of their own, because their family situation and immigration status limit their opportunities. Many of these children will be forced into taking advantage of these services.
No matter what stance you take on illegal immigration, you cannot call these children "illegal" immigrants since they never committed a crime. All they did was follow their parents' wishes. I do not feel qualified to judge the decision of a parent to give his or her children a better future. All I know is that if you have to choose between living in a country without legal identification and having your life threatened by your home country's government, the choice seems very obvious.
The DREAM Act isn't just the right thing to do to give these children dignity and hope, it gives them a chance to become productive, tax paying American citizens. I believe not enough stress has been put on the latter. These children, whose most logical option may have been a homeless shelter when they turned 18, will finally have an option that will not just help themselves, but also help reduce government spending. If Republicans are serious about saving money, then this should make them happy. Building a 20 foot wall across 1,000 miles of the southern border is not a feasible option, nor is hiring enough security to patrol every inch of the border. Undocumented immigration is a reality that we have to live with and some immigrants are often the ones benefitting not just homeless services, but health services for those who cannot afford insurance. An increasing trend in the immigrant community is mental health issues such as depression, which happen to come along with homelessness. This also can lead to crime, which is another area where we spend a lot of money. Some young homeless immigrants are so ashamed of their current situation that would not even dare to go back to their native countries. If they could access education, not only their self-esteem would rise and opportunities occur, but also the need for mental health services funded by the government would decrease.
Medicaid alone is one of the largest projects on which the federal government spends its money; more than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The more low income children we can give a chance to get an education, the more likely it is that we can save on such a huge part of the federal and state budgets.
If Democrats want to follow through with their promises; If Barack Obama wants to follow through with his promise of Hope; and if the Republicans are serious about finding ways to cut spending, then each needs to revisit the idea of the DREAM Act and focus on the humanitarian benefits, but also economic.