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Passing the DREAM Act for Our Economy

Members of the group Casa de Maryland rally outside the White House in support of the President Obama's announcement that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to America as children and have since led law-abiding lives.

When I immigrated to Florida at age 10, it was the immigrant students who welcomed and befriended me at South Seminole Middle School. Carlos, Isabel, and a few others took English as a Second Language classes with me, while others whose families had immigrated years earlier and were already well on their way to fluency showed us the ropes in the cafeteria, teaching us not to order “fried potatoes,” but French fries. Years later, some of these friends of mine would learn they were among the estimated 151,000 young Floridians who lack legal status—but not a dream.

This population would start calling themselves DREAMers in 2001 when the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would provide a pathway to permanent legal status for approximately 2.1 million undocumented youth currently living in the United States, was first introduced in Congress. Since then my courageous peers have fought for a chance to go to college and be paid fair wages for an honest day’s work. They came close to winning that chance in December 2010, when the DREAM Act passed in the House, but their dream came crashing down when Senate Republicans filibustered the act days later.

We’ve known all along that having Carlos, Isabel, and the 2.1 million other undocumented youths reach their fullest potential in the labor force would be good for the economy. But today we know just how big a boost the DREAM Act would give our economy.

For the nation as a whole, passage of the DREAM Act would add a total of $329 billion to the economy by 2030, support the creation of 1.4 million new jobs, and generate at least $10.2 billion in revenue for the federal government.

Granting legal immigration status to this group of young people—many of whom have grown up in America and are eager to build their own American Dream—would bolster our economy in two ways.

  • First, the DREAM Act would provide a strong incentive for them to further their education by requiring applicants to complete high school and some college or military service. Receiving more education would open the doors to better-paying jobs for DREAMers, allowing them to become more productive members of society.
  • Second, having legal status itself would allow these young Americans to apply for better jobs, instead of the low-paying jobs that are often available to undocumented immigrants.

By 2030 we estimate that eligible DREAMers would earn $148 billion in wages if the DREAM Act passes, an increase of 19 percent in earnings. As the DREAMers use these extra wages on cars, houses, iPhones, and the like, their spending would ripple through the economy, supporting an additional $181 billion in induced economic growth, the creation of 1.4 million new jobs, and more than $10 billion in increased revenue, expanding opportunities for all Americans—even the native-born.

Even better, these benefits would unfold over time, as more DREAMers finish their education and enter the workforce, ensuring sustained economic growth in the future.

While all 50 states and the District of Columbia would benefit from the DREAM Act, states with large numbers of DREAMers would see a stronger boost to their economies. California, with its approximately 550,000 eligible DREAMers, would gain $97.7 billion in economic activity and would see the creation of more than 380,000 new jobs and a $3.4 billion boost in tax revenue. Florida’s 151,000 DREAM-eligible youth could bring the state $21 billion in total economic impact by 2030 and support the creation of 100,921 new jobs.

Even states with fewer DREAMers stand to benefit. Maryland, for example, with its 36,000 DREAMers, would gain $4.8 billion in economic activity, which would support the creation of more than 19,000 new jobs.

Passing the DREAM Act is not only the right and moral thing to do for the young people who know of no other home than America; it is also the right thing to do economically. Rather than keeping DREAMers on the sidelines of our nation, Congress should pass the DREAM Act to enable these capable youths to fulfill their own potential and, in turn, add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s future prosperity.

Ann Garcia is a Research and Policy Associate for the Immigration Policy team at American Progress.

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