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Immigration, Education, and National Security

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day, 2005)
As part of the research for writing this piece and its predecessor, I came across the article, For Adults Only and 15 other things you didn’t know about the DREAM Act, by Frank Medina on The Examiner.com. In the piece he makes several hasty generalizations such as the fact that passage of the bill would automatically result in 1.7 million new citizens clambering for college financial aid and stealing jobs out from under those desperate Americans already looking for work. He states that the financial costs to the country would be enormous as these individuals would demand social services and $9.3 billion in financial aid in the first year alone.

Saying that these numbers are based on "fuzzy math" doesn’t even begin to address the lack of veracity behind these claims, which directly contradict the economic forecasts of a December 2010 report by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimated that the 2010 DREAM Act would have "reduce(d) deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period" and "increase(d) government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years" (Sanchez, 2010). While the overall financial impact of the Dream Act is debatable, it is worth digging a little deeper into the debate about it to get a feel for the actual effects that it might have economically, on education, and for our national defense.

California Dreamin’ (The Mamas and the Papas, 1966)
According to President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address, there are hundreds of thousands of students in our schools who are in danger of deportation because of their immigrant status (McCombs, Jan. 25, 2012). Statistics from the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education confirm this information, stating that roughly 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. Given these numbers as well as the others who would qualify for temporary citizen status under the Act, there is a potential landslide of new citizens in this country once it is passed. The argument against the passage of the bill is that all of these new students would put a tremendous strain on our higher education system.

However, we are talking about students who already live, study, and in many cases, work in the U.S. How substantial of a new burden could they be if they are already part of our education and economic systems? While they do not currently qualify for financial aid, the general assumption is that the benefits of their education would outweigh the projected economic repercussions when they become eligible to receive such aid (Sanchez, 2010). The California DREAM Act is based on the federal bill, and may prove to be a model for the larger implementation. Early calculations about the financial impact of the California Dream Act, however, indicate that the economic costs might be far greater than originally anticipated – possibly by as much as $25 million annually until 2016, when the new students will be a regular part of the system (Ortellado, Dec. 12, 2011). Certainly the financial output for the Dream Act will be significant, but there are added advantages that should be considered when weighing the costs and benefits.

Your Wildest Dreams (The Moody Blues, 1986)
According to the report, U.S. Education Reform and National Security by the Council on Foreign Relations task force headed by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice, we are at a point of national security crisis because of the poor academic preparation of our high school students. The report indicated that, for example, up to 75 percent of American 17-24 year olds are unfit for military service because of their health, criminal records, or poor academic abilities. Legalizing these immigrants and potentially making military service a pathway to citizenship would strengthen the pool of not only potential military personnel, but also those capable of contributing to industry and national security.

As an added benefit, with immigrants there is at least some hope that they might speak a foreign language or have experience with other cultures – two other glaring deficiencies in American youth according to the study (U.S. Education Reform and National Security). In addition to serving the government, foreign language speakers could also contribute as foreign language teachers after graduating college, thus further helping to solve the problems we are faced with because of our lack of foreign language and cultural knowledge.
While that assessment may sound a bit flippant, nearly one in five people living in the U.S. speaks a foreign language, and many of those are immigrants (Ohlemacher, 2007). That is not saying that our new citizens will necessarily speak languages that are important to national security such as Chinese, Korean, or any one of several Middle Eastern languages, but speaking more than one language makes an individual more receptive to learning other languages (Tichenor). In one way, at least, granting these immigrant children some form of citizen status would provide a boost to an area of national need where we are dangerously lacking.

Dream On (Aerosmith, 1976)
There is no way of knowing what the real financial or educational effect of the DREAM Act will be until it is passed. Many of the undocumented potential citizens that the Act would grant official status to already participate in our economic and educational systems, so their actual impact would be small. In regards to the financial aid burden and consequences for higher education, in all likelihood, only a small percentage of previously undocumented students would attend college – many of them already do (Sanchez, 2010). So, in terms of infrastructure, the effect would be minimal. Financial aid to previously undocumented students could be a burden in the short term, but the long range benefits both to our national interests and our national conscience are beyond accounting.

Image: chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net