Could the DREAM Act Help Fill Technical Skills Shortage?

Susan Hall

House passage last week of the DREAM Act has increased speculation-and rhetoric-about this effort to provide a path for the children of illegal immigrants to become legal. The Senate is expected to take up the bill by the end of the month.


The think tank Center for American Progress argues that it could provide as many as 252,000 new scientists, engineers and technical workers in this country-and with so many employers citing difficulty in finding workers with the right skills, that could be a good thing.


The bill, called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (the DREAM Act), was first introduced in 2001. The Immigration Policy Center says 2.1 million children in the United States were brought here illegally by their parents. Those children cannot be legally employed in this country once they are out of school, leaving them with few opportunities. And they currently have no path to citizenship independent of their parents. This bill would create that path.


The legislation would allow students of "good moral character" to gain legal status by going to college or serving in the U.S. military. The Center for American Progress says only about 800,000 would be eligible to apply, though. Writer Jorge Madrid looks at that number of eligible students and the percentage of technical degrees granted to Hispanics of legal status in the past few years, based on numbers from the National Science Foundation. And he argues that those who go into the military could gain valuable technical skills there as well as in college.


Democrats such as Rep. Charles Rangel of New York tend to support the bill. He said:

At a time when this nation is in desperate need for scientists, researchers, teachers and other professionals, why are we unwilling to allow some of the best and brightest students in our country to help America maintain its greatness?... To deny students the opportunity to reach their potential solely based on their legal status is both morally and economically wrong.

Republicans tend to be opposed. As Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown said:

I think it's a backdoor amnesty and I'm not in favor of it.

To be sure, the bill is wildly controversial, with its near decade of languishing in Congress as the prime evidence. A Gallup poll released Friday showed 54 percent of Americans favor the bill, with 42 percent opposed. Meanwhile, its passage in the Senate is far from a given.


Our country continues to struggle in its efforts at immigration reform. But I have to agree with my fellow blogger Ann All, though, who wrote:

... wouldn't it be great if the federal government could put the need for attracting and retaining skilled immigrants to the U.S. on their agendas?

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