Young immigrants should be given a chance to succeed in America -- even if they entered illegally.
Washington Post Editorial
Wednesday, September 26, 2007; Page A18
TENS OF thousands of illegal immigrants graduate from American high schools every year, having entered the United States as children or young teenagers with their parents. They may be computer geniuses, talented artists, gifted debaters, entrepreneurial whiz kids or superb athletes, but it doesn't really matter; most of them, no matter how bright and ambitious, face insurmountable obstacles to success -- through no fault of their own. Although they grew up here and may seem culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from their native-born peers, they cannot share their classmates' high hopes and bright prospects.
Moved by their stories, senators from both political parties are sponsoring a measure that would give these youngsters what America has always given promising newcomers: a chance. The legislation, known as the Dream Act, would apply only to those who entered the country at age 15 or younger, have lived here for at least five years and have unblemished records. Upon graduating from high school, they would be granted conditional legal status for six years, a grace period in which they would have to spend at least two years enrolled in a four-year or community college or serving in a branch of the U.S. military. If they satisfied all those conditions while staying out of trouble, they would qualify to become legal permanent residents.
According to the Urban Institute, an estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants who have already finished high school could be eligible right off the bat for six-year conditional legal status under Dream's provisions; 65,000 more would graduate annually and become eligible in the coming years. Many would elect to join the armed forces, thereby providing the military, which is struggling to meet recruitment targets, with a high-quality pool of potential recruits. Many others would enroll in institutions of higher education, instantly improving their long-term prospects to be well-paid, taxpaying, high-achieving members of society. If, as members of Congress and the Bush administration routinely acknowledge, there is to be no mass deportation of illegal immigrants, the Dream Act goes some way toward ensuring that the youngest and most promising immigrants will benefit this country for many years to come.
The Dream Act has been offered as an amendment to the Defense Department's appropriations bill and could face a floor vote in the Senate this week. Predictably, the anti-illegal-immigrant forces are howling about a new "amnesty." Let them use whatever word they choose. But let's also be clear about the victims if the measure is defeated -- promising young English speakers who had no say about how they were brought to this country. Most will stay here, in the only land where they feel at home. The real question is whether America is big enough and wise enough to offer them a future or will doom them to lives on the margins.