First published by Center for American Progress
The United States is sitting on a goldmine of potential scientists, engineers, and technicians. Sadly, these future innovators cannot work legally in the United States because they are not citizens.
This week the Senate will vote on the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children provided they meet certain strict conditions. One such condition is the completion of a two- or four-year college degree. Another condition is active military service for at least two years, during which time many students will receive technical education that will strengthen and secure the country, as well as the opportunity to pursue higher education upon discharge.
The National Immigration Law Center estimates that around 800,000 students would benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act. This is contrary to popular conservative rhetoric that this bill constitutes “amnesty” or will “open the flood gates” for all immigrants. Nonetheless, without a path to citizenship, the employment, earnings, and contribution of these gifted young people are effectively eviscerated.
No formal data exists on the exact educational pursuits of these students, but reasonable projections can be made. Latinos, for example, who make up the largest population of undocumented students, were awarded 36,402 degrees in technical fields in 2006 (31.5 percent of total Latino college degrees) according to data from the NSF.
We can roughly estimate, then, that passing the DREAM Act could add as many as 252,000 new scientists, engineers, and technical workers to this country’s critically thin supply. Conversely, failing to pass the bill would rob this country of a critical mass of brain power and technological innovation. An undocumented scientist or engineer has little to no hope of finding a job in their field of expertise—a travesty given their extraordinary sacrifice and intellectual potential.