This article was cross-posted from the Huffington Post.
In grade school I was taught that the United States is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here for freedom and to pursue a better life. They arrive with next to nothing, work incredibly hard, learn a new language and new customs, and in a generation they become an integral part of our amazing nation. Although it requires some adjustment by those already here, immigration has made the U.S.A. the most prosperous nation on Earth.
In reality we have not always treated immigrants well. One example is the Chinese Exclusion Act. Starting in 1882 a series of laws was enacted to not only exclude new Chinese immigrants but to deny rights and freedoms to people of Chinese descent legally in the United States. Chinese Americans couldn't buy land, they couldn't fully defend themselves in court, and they couldn't leave the country and return even if they were U.S. citizens. In multiple instances they were murdered and wronged with little recourse. In the eyes of many U.S. citizens, legal Chinese Americans were unwelcome. They wanted them to leave and enacted laws to punish them for being here. This went on for 61 years until these laws were overturned in 1943.
Another example is the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII. In hindsight, putting patriotic American citizens in prison camps was a bad idea, but at the time few people questioned it. In addition to lost years, many interned families lost their homes and businesses. Only young Japanese American men were allowed to leave the camps, to enlist and fight the war in Europe. With great irony they fought bravely and died to protect freedoms being denied to their families who concurrently were locked behind barbed wire.
In hindsight, these and other moments in American history are at best embarrassing, but mostly shameful. How could the rightful United States treat its own citizens so poorly? Why would other U.S. citizens and their elected officials support these terrible laws? I have always hoped that we are better and more informed now. These kinds of behaviors could not happen again. Or could they?
I believe we are in the midst of another sad and shameful period of U.S. history, where promising young lives are being destroyed by bigotry and partisan politics.
We have an immigration problem. At times in the past, the U.S. did not restrict the number of immigrants. If you got here and were in good health you were let in. Currently we restrict the number of immigrants each year. We expect people desiring to come to the U.S. will respect these restrictions and wait in line. That hasn't been the case and we find ourselves with about 10 million adult immigrants living and working in the U.S. who came here illegally. We have to enact some kind of immigration reform to resolve this problem. Most people believe that if you came here without permission there should be some consequences, yet at the same time most of these 10 million people are already an integral part of U.S. society and can't be sent home. As I see it, there is nothing shameful about how the U.S has handled this situation so far. We have a difficult problem to solve and need to work toward a resolution.
The shameful part is how we are treating the children of illegal immigrants. There are about 2 million young adults who were children when they were brought to this country by their parents. They didn't decide to come here and had no choice, they were children. How we are treating these kids is shameful.
We do not punish children for the actions of their parents. We invest in the health and education of our nation's children and indeed even protect them from their parents if need be. We have a collective interest in children's well-being, and don't hold children accountable for the actions of their parents.
Today, the undocumented children of illegal immigrants are in a terrible quandary. These kids were raised in America, went to school in America, speak perfect English, and for many of them, this is the only home they know. Yet they can't get a driver's license, they can't apply for most financial aid to attend college, and they can't travel freely. They can't legally work at any job. Even if they graduate from a top university with amazing credentials (which many do) they can't legally work, even as a dishwasher. Just as they come of age they realize they have almost no options for living a normal productive life. In effect we are terribly punishing them for the actions of their parents.
The DREAM Act was a bipartisan attempt to partially rectify this embarrassing situation. However, it has become politicized to where now many politicians who once viewed it as an obvious and necessary correction can no longer support it. We, as a nation, should be ashamed of how we are treating these innocent kids. Future Americans will look back at this time with embarrassment and shame and ask "What were they thinking?" "How could that happen here in America?"
"Dream Act" kids are like all other American kids, with the exception that they have to work harder to excel in school, they live in fear of deportation, and they worry about their future. You will find them in most High Schools and in virtually every university and college. The best and brightest should be future leaders of our country. They all should be welcome.
If you get to know even one of these kids it is nearly impossible to ignore their plight. I know this firsthand when I learned one of my daughter's friends in High School was undocumented. Since then I have met many others. They are sweet and earnest young adults. They all want a chance for a normal life and to help others. Punishing them for obeying their parents is wrong and shameful. We need to rectify this situation as soon as possible. That is why I support Dream Act kids, DefineAmerican.com, and all efforts to enact the Dream Act. I encourage you to do the same.
Jeff Hawkins is an engineer, serial entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, and author.