12/01/2010 02:35 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Time to Make This DREAM a Reality

Early in my career, I worked as a student advisor and higher education recruitment counselor. Many of the young people I worked with were undocumented, including a college-bound young man whose academic achievements and dedication to hard work made him a model student in everyone's eyes. He gave everything his all, and today he's an environmental scientist. He has a rewarding, interesting and good-paying job. And he is making his own unique contribution to our country and the world.

He understood what a privilege it is to live in a country that allowed him to get a good education. That's precisely why he chose to give back through public service. It's his way of showing his profound gratitude.

I think about him every time I talk about the DREAM Act -- legislation designed to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, by giving them the chance to either obtain legal status by pursuing a higher education, or by serving in the U.S. armed forces.

The DREAM Act has long enjoyed bipartisan support. It passed twice out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was included in the 2006 comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate, with the support of 11 Republicans currently serving. In 2007, despite the support of 12 Republicans, including 7 currently in the Senate, a standalone version of the DREAM Act fell just 8 votes shy from the 60-votes needed to be debated.

There's no reason why it shouldn't receive that same kind of bipartisan support today. It's time to act. Now.

The president has long been a strong supporter of the DREAM Act, and was a co-sponsor when he was in the Senate. I was an enthusiastic supporter when I served in Congress. As Labor Secretary (often called "America's Job Counselor") I see important economic reasons to pass it. The Dream Act eliminates the barriers to higher education that often result in high drop out rates, which cost taxpayers and the economy billions of dollars a year. It provides powerful incentives to stay in school . . . and to graduate. Bottom line: workers with more education fare much better than workers with less.

But I'm not the only member of the Cabinet who supports the Dream Act. My colleagues do too, for good reasons:
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cited the rich precedent of non-citizens serving in the U.S. military;
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes the DREAM Act will play an important part in the nation's efforts to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020; and
  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that passing the DREAM Act would free up resources so that DHS can dedicate enforcement efforts to detaining and deporting criminals and those who pose a threat to our country.
In short: the DREAM Act would strengthen our economy and our work force. It would strengthen our national defense and our national security. It's time to make this dream a reality.

This post also appears on the Department of Labor Blog.