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How DREAM Act could improve economy

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 10:15 p.m. MDT

Students from left: David Buenrostro, Adrian James, and Jahel Ramos protest outside the Obama campaign offices in Culver City, Calif., Thursday, June 14, 2012. The students demand that President Obama issue an executive order to stop deportations of illegal immigrant students in favor of the DREAM Act, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. In July 2011, California Gov. Brown enacted the California DREAM Act, giving illegal immigrant students access to private college scholarships for state schools.

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The passage of the DREAM Act would add $329 billion to the U.S. economy and create more than a million new jobs by 2030, according to a report released Monday by the Center for American Progress.

First proposed in Congress in 2001, the DREAM Act would provide legal residency to an estimated 2.1 million undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. Passing the act would boost the earnings of affected workers by 19 percent, according to the report.

"The report proves a fundamental truth about the contributions of immigrants to the American economy: We absolutely need them to continue our economic growth," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a prepared statement.

The Center for American Progress is a progressive research organization based in Washington, D.C. The report was co-sponsored by the Partnership for the New American Economy, which Bloomberg created with News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Opponents of the DREAM Act call it an amnesty program, question the economic benefits and say the previously undocumented residents would be competing with U.S.-born workers for jobs.

If passed, the act would contribute to economic growth in two important ways, according to the report. First, "it provides incentives for people to get more education," said John Feinblatt, Bloomberg's chief adviser. The act would apply only to immigrants who complete high school and some college work. Receiving more education opens doors to higher-paying professions where there is "less competition for jobs," Feinblatt said.

Second, legal status on its own translates into higher earnings for immigrant youth since it allows them to apply for a broader range of jobs instead of being forced into low-paying jobs for employers who are willing to pay them under the table, according to the authors of the study, Juan Carlos Guzman and Raul C. Jara.

The authors of the study dismiss the argument that DREAMers would displace American workers for two reasons.

They said that immigrants tend to complement the skills of native workers rather than compete with them. "We find that native-born workers are concentrated in language-intensive front-facing positions," said Feinblatt, while immigrants provide back-office and labor support. In the life sciences, for example, this means that immigrants are the lab techs and native-born workers are the lab managers, he said.

Additionally, research shows that an increase in college-educated immigrants directly increases the U.S. gross domestic product, which correlates to more jobs for American workers. For example, in the 1990s, the increase in college-educated immigrants was responsible for a 1.4 to 2.4 percent increase in American GDP, according to research by the Institute for the Study of Labor.

Feinblatt suggested that enormous job opportunities exist for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM. In the coming years there will be 3.7 million new jobs in STEM fields, said Brad Smith, executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft during a panel discussion last week at the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

However, the demographics of those who study STEM subjects and the potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act do not appear to match. Latinos represent only about 3 percent of doctoral candidates in STEM fields, according to the National Science Board, and about 12 percent of STEM undergraduates. But 84 percent of the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are Latinos, based on figures supplied by the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Critics say those statistics call into question the potential economic benefits of passing the DREAM Act. Unless DREAMers study STEM fields, where there are job opportunities, it appears that more new young college-educated people would be fighting native-born Americans for jobs, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, told USA Today.

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