Pass the Dream Act

By:  Editorial
Chicago Tribune

Supporters have pulled out all the stops to encourage the lame-duck Congress to pass the Dream Act, a measure that would allow immigrant children who were brought here illegally to earn legal status by attending college or enlisting in the U.S. military.

White House officials have held three conference calls in less than a week to lobby for passage of the bill.

Cecilia Munoz, director of intergovernmental affairs, quoted a Congressional Budget Office study that said the Dream Act would generate $2.3 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department would be able to focus on removing dangerous undocumented criminals, not young adults who have known no other home. And Dr. Clifford Stanley, the Pentagon's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said it would provide the U.S. military with a new pool of high-quality recruits.

College presidents across the nation have signed on. Immigrant youth and their legal peers have staged rallies and other events. A handful of students at Indiana University have been on a hunger strike for two weeks.

Two of the bill's biggest promoters —Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Sen. Dick Durbin, both Illinois Democrats — will hold a news conference Wednesday morning with Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. And then if everything goes as expected, the Dream Act will go down in flames.

We'd like to remind lawmakers —including a key skeptic, newly minted Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois —why it shouldn't:

The Dream Act — it's short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — would provide a path to legalization for youngsters with the potential and ambition to make a contribution to this country. Roughly 65,000 youngsters who are here illegally graduate from U.S. high schools every year.

They don't qualify for most scholarships, student loans or resident tuition rates; those who can afford college tuition often don't apply for fear of being deported. They can't legally work here, either. But this is the only home most of them have known, so they end up staying and working underground. U.S. taxpayers, who paid to educate these students, are deprived of their talents and legal labor. It's a net loss for everyone.

Immigration reform has proven to be one of our nation's most troublesome challenges. A comprehensive overhaul that seemed within reach a few short years ago now is likely years down the road. The Dream Act can't wait. It isn't fair for youngsters who are here illegally, through no fault of their own, to be held hostage to an uncertain future.