They toil away at part-time jobs, attend college and risk their lives to serve their country. Some have been accepted into medical school and dream of becoming cancer surgeons. Yet opponents of the decade-old bill known as the Dream Act still don't believe these young people are entitled to American citizenship.
Brought to the United States by their parents, they have grown up there and many have no ties to their country of birth. They are surely the group that attracts the greatest sympathy among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and deserve to be put on the pathway to citizenship.
Now hundreds of them are coming out from the shadows and telling their stories, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist José Antonio Vargas, who revealed his status recently in the New York Times magazine: "I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn't think of me as one of its own."
The U.S. Congress has another chance to pass the Dream Act - an acronym for "development, relief and education for alien minors" - which was narrowly defeated last year in the Senate, and reintroduced last month. The bill would allow students who came to the U.S. as children to gain permanent residency, as long as they go to college or serve in the military, and pass a medical and criminal background check.
Critics say the Dream Act is a form of amnesty that could encourage others to break immigration laws. Its proponents say it is time to bring these bright, young people out of the legal twilight zone.
They are right. These people are part of the future of the U.S. and can help its troubled economy. The act would probably generate $1.4-billion more in revenue than it would cost over the next decade, money that could go toward paying down the deficit.
Many U.S. states already recognize the economic benefits of allowing undocumented immigrants to get an education. Texas, California, New York and other states have passed laws allowing undocumented students to attend college or university and pay in-state tuition. However, Arizona and Georgia have blocked these students from obtaining state residency for tuition purposes. And no state can confer citizenship.
Federal legislators must take the lead and change the law for the whole country. It is the right thing to do.