Why the DREAM Act Won't Cost Us Money

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If you take a serious look at our alternatives on immigration policy and dealing with the population of immigrants in the country illegally, we really do not have many choices. Mass deportation or policies designed to spark a mass exodus are clearly beyond the scope of reality.

Moving an estimated 12 million men, women, and children out of the country is a fantasy that only a few staunch opponents of immigration reform continue to embrace. Like it or not, and despite our record-breaking deportation numbers, almost all of the 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are likely to spend the rest of their lives here.

That is just reality. And the owner of this website agrees. As Rupert Murdoch said when he testified before the House Immigration Subcommittee, "It is nonsense to talk of expelling 12 million people. Not only is it impractical, it is cost prohibitive... there are better ways to spend our money."

Murdoch calls it "nonsense." And yet, those poised to take over control of the House Immigration Subcommittee base their entire policy approach to immigration on this nonsensical fantasy.

In reality, we have two choices:

1) Allow a massive population of undocumented immigrants to live here while they contribute to -- but float just outside of -- our society; or...

2) Make sure that law-abiding undocumented immigrants are in-the-system, on-the-books, playing by the same rules as everyone else, and protected by the same basic rights on the job and in our communities.

Those are the only choices that are realistic and achievable. Clearly the outcome that is best for our tax-base, our security, our economy, and the future of civil society in the U.S. is to get undocumented immigrants into the system and within the law.

But GOP opposition to allowing any immigrants here illegally to ever live here legally prevents us from pursuing the only sensible policy available to us. It is an ideological commitment to the slogan "no amnesty" that is standing in the way of law and order. A slogan is preventing us from fully integrating immigrants into society and restoring our proud tradition of welcoming immigrants.

Which brings us to the current debate. I would prefer that the Congress consider a broader, bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill because that is what is needed to end illegal immigration. It would combine legalization with legal immigration and steady, consistent enforcement.

But during the lame duck session, we are considering a much narrower proposal known as the DREAM Act, which would allow a certain number of undocumented immigrants who already live in the United States (probably 800,000 or so) to become officially recognized as members of our society by legalizing their status over a decade-long process. They must have been brought here [as minors] by age 16, lived here for five years, graduated from an American high school, remained crime free, and then, over a number of years, they must also serve at least two years in the military or go to college to earn eventual permanent status.

This same group of people would be fully taxed, their access to publicly funded health care and education benefits would be severely (in my opinion, unfairly) restricted, and they would be eligible for college only if they can afford it on their own or through loans they must pay back.

Most credible estimates point to the DREAM Act as a revenue generator. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office examined the Senate version of the DREAM Act (S.3992) and released a report last week showing it would reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $1.4 billion over ten years. The limited cost to taxpayers for making immigrants legal will be significantly offset by the revenue that militarily trained and/or college educated young leaders contribute to society via taxes and economic activity.

Wild estimates from opponents of immigration reform inside and outside of government that the DREAM Act would add $10-30 billion to the deficit have now been shown to be somewhat hysterical.

But let us consider the alternative to legalizing DREAM Act eligible young people. The young men and women eligible for the DREAM Act will still live here but can only take jobs in the black market, probably cannot afford the high costs we charge foreign students for a college education, and are barred from serving in the military.

Immigrants, including low-skilled, working class immigrants, with and without papers, already contribute a great deal to our economy, but how could choosing to have a less educated and less well-trained workforce possibly be a benefit to society?

We want a more educated workforce fully taxed within the legitimate economy. This is why the DREAM Act, if anything, is likely to be a net revenue generator for the federal government.

From my perspective, I think we have enough votes in the House to pass the DREAM Act, with or without a dozen or so additional votes from House Republicans that support DREAM. -- I had been hoping for a vote last week, but scheduling caused it to be postponed until this week.

On the Senate side, there are a dozen or so Republicans who have previously voted for or co-sponsored the DREAM Act and with the Democrats that support it, they could achieve the 60-vote support majority needed to have a debate and pass the bill.

Republicans who want to steer the party towards being realistic on immigration are hoping that Republican votes in the House and Senate help get the DREAM Act across the finish line. It is a very modest step in the direction of sensible immigration reform and a step away from those who are fixated on the deportation or departure of these young Americans and who fantasize about a United States with 12 million fewer people contributing to our well-being.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez represents the Fourth District of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives.