Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform earlier this year, postponing hope for speedy reform to our country’s broken immigration system. But the DREAM Act—or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act—now before Congress, promises to improve immigration policy and provide new opportunities for a small subset of the population: The children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States at a young age.
The act provides a pathway to citizenship for almost 65,000 children each year who were brought to the United States by their parents and are therefore permanently branded as illegal and cannot obtain citizenship. Under the DREAM Act, immigrant students would be granted a pathway to citizenship if they serve two years in the military or attend at least two years of college. The Act also requires that they have lived in the United States for at least five years, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, and have no criminal record.
This bipartisan bill is just one component of what is needed for tough but fair comprehensive immigration reform, but it is a step in the right direction. Congressional inaction on immigration reform has already led to a patchwork of state and local anti-immigrant actions that are fostering hostilities between law enforcement officials and immigrant communities—both legal and illegal.
The children of undocumented immigrants deserve the opportunity to succeed in America. Many of these young men and women have already contributed invaluably to U.S. economic prosperity and the American military—not to mention the 103 immigrants who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have been made citizens posthumously.
The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that the DREAM Act would make 279,000 youth eligible for college enrollment or military service. The boost in recruits would help an already overstretched military that now offers enlistment bonuses worth up to $20,000 to entice more reluctant recruits.
The public overwhelmingly supports tough but fair comprehensive immigration reform. Yet reactionary restrictionists have continued to kill essential reform efforts. The Senate compromise legislation that died earlier this year was not a miracle solution by any means—it was in fact deeply flawed—but the bill would have been at least a first step away from the current, unacceptable status quo.
In the absence of a comprehensive plan, the DREAM Act is a bipartisan solution to a particularly unfair denial of opportunity and citizenship. It’s time to restore the American ideal of equal opportunity to succeed to youth who arrived in the United States illegally through no fault of their own while also bolstering our physical and economic security, respecting our tradition of being a country of immigrants, and restoring the rule of law.