DREAM Act would boost economy, think tank says

10:11 AM, Oct 1, 2012   |    comments
Charlene Gomez leads an orientation seminar for illegal immigrants, to determine if they qualify for temporary work permits, at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
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(USA TODAY) -- If illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children were given legal status, their improved access to college and better jobs would add $329 billion and 1.4 million jobs to the nation's economy over two decades, according to a report set for release today.

The report found that up to 223,000 of the 2.1 million young illegal immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act would have an easier time enrolling, paying for and finishing college, which would lead to the increased economic gains.

The study was released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based, left-leaning think tank that supports the DREAM Act, and the Partnership for a New American Economy, which was created by independent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. The center has pushed Congress to pass the DREAM Act and other bills that would grant more visas to foreign students that specialize in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"This report proves a fundamental truth about the contributions of immigrants to the American economy: we absolutely need them to continue our economic growth," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The report provides an argument in favor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal residency to illegal immigrants brought to the country as children who have completed some college or served in the military.

When the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001, it was a bipartisan effort sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. But it has since become more partisan. The House of Representatives passed it in 2010 with minimal Republican support, and it failed in the Senate when only three Republicans voted for it.

President Obama has supported the bill, and recently used his executive authority to give some relief to DREAMers. He created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that does not grant legal residency or U.S. citizenship, but gives young illegal immigrants deferred deportations and work permits for two years. Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he would veto the current version of the DREAM Act if it came before him, but supports legalizing young illegal immigrants who have served in the military.

In recent years, supporters of the DREAM Act have tried to sell the bill by personalizing the people it would affect. Durbin has told stories on the Senate floor of individual DREAMers, and young illegal immigrants have increasingly "outed" themselves in recent years, revealing their status to draw attention to their situation.

That argument is one that even opponents of the act find persuasive. Steven Camarota, director of researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes the DREAM Act, said the moral argument is one that "carries weight with most Americans."

So he's confused why supporters would push an economic argument that opens up the DREAM Act to criticism. With unemployment remaining over 8%, Camarota wonders why supporters would draw attention to just how many new, young, college-educated people would be fighting native-born Americans for jobs.

"Somebody came here as child -- is it fair to ask them to go back to another country? That's the argument I find persuasive," he said. "But even their own study shows that their effect on the economy is trivial. It's so tiny relative to the size of the U.S. economy that you can't even measure it. That's why they do it over 20 years."

Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said the newly legalized workers would not be competing job-for-job with unemployed Americans. Instead, she pointed to the example of Sergey Brin, who was born in the Soviet Union but co-founded Google in the U.S.

"It's not as if that was a job that was taken from an American worker," she said.

Kelley said the report does not represent a new strategy for garnering support for the DREAM Act but simply another way to show Americans what it can do.

"We're trying to round out the picture of what the DREAM Act would mean, not only to the individuals who would benefit from it ... but also what it would mean for the country as a whole," she said.

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