On April 20, the Future of Children and Brookings Institution hosted Immigrant Children Falling Behind: Implications and Policy Prescriptions, which highlighted key findings from the Future of Children's Immigrant Children volume, and engaged leaders from across the political spectrum in a debate about the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The press picked up on one key warning following the event: that the United States will risk creating a new Hispanic underclass unless it improves immigrant children's access to and quality of education. One in five pupils comes from a Hispanic background, and among children in kindergarten, the figure is one in four.
In December 2010, the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrant students, passed in the House but was blocked by the Senate, after which it seemed it would lie dormant for the foreseeable future.
But on Tuesday, April 19th, President Obama met with immigration reform advocates from around the nation to talk about how to revive stalled efforts to fix the country's broken immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship for immigrant children.
At the Princeton-Brookings event the following day, proponents of the DREAM Act mentioned the economic benefits of giving those students who have proven to be assets to the country the ability to rise and contribute fully to the country's productivity. Opponents argued that providing a path to citizenship would encourage future migrants to enter the country illegally.
Both agreed that creating better incentives for legal immigration, continuing border enforcement, and providing children who come here illegally, but identify as Americans, a way to become citizens without creating incentives for illegal entry, could benefit the United States. Additionally, all agreed that a well-educated population was critical to the country's advancement and ability to compete in a global economy.
With so many divisive issues currently facing Congress, could immigration reform resurface as one of the few that has a middle ground?
If this happened in conjunction with continued (and potentially increased) support for education, the threat of a new underclass could be avoided. Not only that, but we might even capitalize on the many talents and abilities that children of immigrant families bring to our country.