Secretary Arne Duncan's Testimony at the DREAM Act Hearing Held by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security
Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cornyn and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to come here today to talk about the DREAM Act. As you know, the Obama administration strongly supports this legislation, which historically has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle.
Through it, a generation of Americans will have the opportunity to earn a college degree and serve our country in the military. Without it, these young people who have lived here most of their lives will miss out on the American Dream, and our country's long-term economic prosperity will suffer as they fail to fulfill their economic potential.
In the few moments I have here today, I want to explain two reasons why it's important to pass the DREAM Act.
First, it's an issue of fairness. Thousands of young people have worked hard. But they are being denied the chance to build a better future for themselves and to contribute their skills, talents, and creativity to the country.
Second, it's an issue of economic prosperity. By offering these young people the chance to earn a college degree, we are helping them establish their own economic security. And, in the process, they will help sustain America's economic competitiveness into the future.
The students who will benefit from the DREAM Act deserve a fair chance to succeed. They are some of our country's best and brightest. They come from all over the world -- Africa, India, and China. But they were raised and educated here in America. They have deep roots here and are loyal to our country because for many of them it is the only home they've ever known.
We should not punish these students because they were brought here by their parents. Some of them first learn that their families are undocumented when they apply for college. It goes against the basic American sense of fairness to deny them opportunities because of the choices of their parents.
It also goes against our national interest to deny these young students a college education. By creating opportunities for these bright, talented youth to attend college, they will contribute much, much more than they ever could as struggling workers moving from one under-the-table job to another. With a college education, they can fill important jobs in fields facing critical shortages, such as engineers, nurses, and teachers. Today, even in tough economic times, our country has 3 million unfilled jobs. By 2018, we'll need to fill 2.6 million job openings in the fields of science, technology, and engineering, and mathematics.The students who will benefit from the DREAM Act can absolutely help fill those jobs.
By working in these fields, they will contribute to our country's economic growth. With a bachelor's degree, their earnings will be up to 80 percent higher than if their education ends in high school. With those extra earnings, they will purchase homes, cars, and other goods to drive economic growth. According to a 2010 study from the University of California, Los Angeles, those who would benefit from the DREAM Act could generate between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion of income over their careers.
We know that these students are hungry to go to college. Right now, 13 states offer in-state tuition for undocumented students. In these states that offer a promise of low-cost tuition, the high school dropout rate for noncitizen Latinos has fallen by 14 percent. Texas was the first state to create tuition benefits for these students. Today, undocumented students in Texas are almost 5 times more likely to enroll in postsecondary education as undocumented students in nearby states that don't offer them in-state tuition.
But for far too many of these young students, the benefit of in-state tuition isn't enough. Even with the reduced costs, college remains unaffordable for them. For those who can afford it, their choices are. Eventually, the earning power of a college degree is limited because they are unable to legally work and become full participants in the economy.
That's why the federal government needs to offer low-cost loans and work-study opportunities and the potential for permanent resident status to our young people.
Before I close, it's important to be clear about what the DREAM Act will do and what it won't do and to dispel two important myths.
First, the DREAM Act won't provide amnesty to students. It will offer a conditional lawful permanent residence status only for students who meet a rigorous set of criteria. They must have entered this country before the age of 15 and must have lived in this country for five years before the bill's enactment. They must have graduated from high school or have earned admission into an institution of higher education. They must pass a rigorous background check to show they are not a security threat and demonstrate good moral character. Students wouldn't be eligible if they have a criminal record that would make them inadmissible to this country or result in imprisonment that exceeds certain amounts of time. The students will earn their permanent residence status after a six-year process.
The second myth about the DREAM Act is that it would restrict the availability of federal student aid for U.S. citizens. Simply put, that will not happen. By statute, student loans are available to all students who are eligible to receive them. And because DREAM Act students would be ineligible for Pell Grants, passing this bill will not have costs associated with the program. All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the DREAM Act would generate $1.4 billion more in revenue than it would add in costs over the next decade. As we strive to reduce the deficit, we can't afford to leave that type of money on the table.
Chairman Durbin, I want thank you for your courageous leadership on this issue and for being a fierce and tireless advocate for the DREAM Act. For both of us, this battle is personal. We have spent too much time with great young people to walk away from them and allow their talent to go to waste. This is common-sense legislation that will open the doors of postsecondary education to thousands of deserving young people. Millions of our ancestors have come to America to be free, work hard, and pursue their dreams. They have fueled our economy for generations and made America the most prosperous country in the world. By passing the DREAM Act, we will offer a new generation of immigrants the opportunity go to college, help our economy prosper and live their own American Dreams.