When Marcus came to the United States from Brazil, he was 2 years old. His father was hired by an internationally known company which any American teenager would readily recognize, and his family had the opportunity to live and work in the United States.  During the years in which his father was employed in the United States, Marcus led a normal life growing up and attending school with the hopes of being a professional baseball player.

Unfortunately, all of this changed when he received a college baseball scholarship. After visiting the college and completing his application, he was notified he could not attend college or accept the scholarship without a social security number. It was then he learned his parents had simply never told him he was not in the United States legally.Due to legislation recently filed in both houses of Congress, Marcus may now be able to remain in the United States, and even realize his personal goal of being a baseball player. The DREAM Act, introduced by Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Representatives  Howard Berman of California, Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California  provides undocumented young people with a path to citizenship. Eligibility requires two years in higher education or military service and a demonstration of good moral character. Ultimately, citizenship may be attained.

In the Senate, the act (S. 729)  known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, was introduced on March 26, 2009, The House version, called the American Dream Act (H.R. 1751) was introduced the same day. Both acts attempt to provide relief to help those who came to the U.S. at age 15 years or younger and were in the U.S. at least five years before the date of the bill’s enactment. Conditional permanent residence would be granted upon acceptance to college, graduation from a U.S. high school, or being awarded a GED. This status would be for a limited period of time, and at the end of this period, lawful permanent residence would be granted if one has served in the U.S. armed forces for at least two years, or graduated from a two-year college or certain vocational colleges, or studied for at least two years toward a B.A. or higher degree.

Conditional residency is for six years, but extendable upon showing good cause. In some cases, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could waive the requirements altogether for compelling reasons, and if removal of the student would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the student or the student’s spouse, parent or child.

The intent of the Act has merit. Most people would be in favor of a program to help young people go to school, or to have an experience or even a career in the military. But there are problems with the legislation as well, beginning with the fact that no matter how much empathy we as a nation have for young people who, through no fault of their own, were brought to America illegally,the fact is that  providing benefits to any illegal immigrant has to be reconciled in some way with a basic principle of our republic, and that is we are a nation of laws and not of men. Just because Congress has the ability to pass this legislation, does not mean it will be accepted in the hearts and minds of the American public. Senators and Representatives need to explain how this law comports with the Rule of Law. What is it about this legislation that will make Americans believe it is the right thing to do?

At the same time, we have to recognize the reason this legislation is necessary. Basically, parents of these children made a decision for whatever reason, to live in the United States without regard to the immigration laws of the United States. Justification can be found for those who are literally refugees from persecution in their home countries for political, religious or social reasons. But it is a stretch to say that immigration benefits should be provided to the children of those who came to the U.S. to improve their economic condition. That is why I think Adey Fisseha, interim federal policy director of NILC misses the mark when she says, “To be competitive in today’s global economy, American depends on an educated and skilled population.” And, “The DREAM Act realizes the benefit of having a more multicultural, multilingual U.S. workforce.” The justification for the DREAM Act should not be based on economics, although that is an easy argument to make in this economic environment. Instead, we need to recognize that the “cat is out of the bag” with immigration. We have immigration laws which have not been enforced over the years and as a result, we now find ourselves looking for a way to deal with the parents who made the decision to be here illegally, leaving innocent children in a tragic situation.

Once we come to the point where we realize that our nation has allowed the problem to happen, I believe we are compelled to support the DREAM Act from a humanitarian view. I work with someone who frequently says, “It is not a perfect world.” This is not a perfect law, but it addresses a real problem and over the long run, it can have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of young people and our society as a whole.