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The DREAM Act and American Commerce

Read the third in a series of posts from top Administration Officials on the importance of the DREAM Act, this one from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of posts from top Administration Officials on the importance of the DREAM Act.  Read Education Secretary Arne Duncan's post here and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis's contribution here.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Americans get up and go to work at blue chip companies like Pfizer, DuPont, Google, Procter and Gamble and Intel.

These are very different companies operating in different industries – but they’ve got at least one thing in common.

All of them were started by immigrants.

It’s no coincidence.  The constant influx of new cultures, new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems is a big part of the reason why America has been the most dynamic economy in the world for well over a century.   

But immigrants, for all their contributions, don’t do it on their own.  The U.S. tries to provide immigrants who grow up here with a world-class education and imbue them with the can-do attitude that has long defined American innovation.

Unfortunately, America has failed to reap the full rewards on her investment.  Every year, some 65,000 high school students -- many of them star students and leaders in their communities -- are unable to go to college or get a good job because they have no legal status. 

These young people, who were brought to America by their parents when they were children, can be our future scientists, doctors, military leaders, and entrepreneurs.  America’s economic future depends on giving these children an opportunity to advance and succeed.  Last week, eight Republicans voted together with Democrats in the House of Representatives and approved the DREAM Act.  Today, I am calling on the Senate to act in a similar bipartisan manner and pass the DREAM Act.

Consider the fact that over the past 15 years, twenty-five percent of venture capital backed companies that eventually went public were started by immigrants.  Imagine if we were to unleash the full force of the over 700,000 young people who are stuck in this citizenship limbo.  What else could we invent, create, or start-up?

Even for those immigrants who don't become the next Sergey Brin or Andy Grove, the contributions they can make to our economy are immeasurable.

Giving these kids a shot to go to college or join the military would allow them to earn higher wages and move into higher-paying occupations – generating more tax revenue to pay for schools, parks and roads in the communities where they live. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the DREAM Act would generate $1.7 billion in government revenues and reduce the deficit by $2.2 billion over the next decade.

Many of these immigrants have spent years going to publicly funded American elementary and secondary schools, and if Congress doesn’t pass the Dream Act, we will lose that investment as some of our most talented students are forced to leave the country or take jobs that don’t allow them to fulfill their full potential.  

For generations, people have come to U.S. shores to seek opportunity.  It’s what my grandfather did a century ago, when he came to Seattle, and worked as a houseboy just one mile from the Washington State governor’s mansion that I was privileged to inhabit for eight years.

Passage of the Dream Act would give these deserving kids the opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a real difference in their communities.  I urge the Senate to pass the bill immediately.

Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce