This column has never advocated for a bill in the U.S. Senate, and may never again, but the DREAM Act deserves to become law.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he is bringing the DREAM Act to a vote on the floor of the Senate. If passed, and signed by President Barack Obama, laudable young people could be freed from the trap of illegal immigration.
The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act seeks to shield from deportation the innocent kids who are "illegal" by no fault of their own but were brought to the United States illegally when they were younger than 16.
These kids could earn conditional residency if they can provide proof that they have lived in the United States for at least five consecutive years. They must have a high school diploma, or obtained a GED, and been accepted into a college or university.
If, after a six-year wait, they graduated from community college, completed two years toward a four-year degree – or served two years in the military – they could apply for permanent residence.
Does this solve America's vexing immigration problem? No.
But it would stop punishing young people who didn't choose to be illegal and are now are Americans in their hearts.
Two weeks ago, Pedro Ramirez made national news when the student body president of Fresno State was revealed to be undocumented.
According to the The Collegian, the newspaper at Fresno State, Ramirez was brought to the United States when he was 3 and didn't know his status for years.
"I found out when I was about to graduate (high school)," Ramirez told The Collegian. "I have been hiding part of me since I was in high school."
Ramirez pays his own tuition and is not eligible for federal grants. Neither would applicants to the DREAM Act.
Many don't understand this – that these kids pay their own way in college right now. According to estimates, there could be as many as 25,000 Pedro Ramirezes in California.
Opponents counter that illegal is illegal: Violators should go home and get in line for legal status.
This is empty rhetoric.
Returning to Mexico, or wherever, means years of waiting – and separation from family – with no guarantees.
This is why kids such as Ramirez hide the truth. There is no incentive to reveal it.
Let's be clear. If a kid commits a crime, even a misdemeanor, the penalty could be deportation under the DREAM Act. That's fair.
But law-abiding students smart enough to gain admission to college – and law-abiding kids seeking to join the ranks of a depleted military – make our communities better.
The DREAM Act would make our nation better. After nine years of trying, it's time to make it happen.