I have been an educator for almost 30 years, and I continue to teach English full time at a community college not far from the White House. Education for me is not an abstract policy debate – it’s about the young people I work with every day who are overcoming countless obstacles to prepare themselves for success.
I’m proud that the president and vice president know the value of education. This administration recognizes that if America is to remain competitive in an increasingly dynamic global economy, we need to improve our schools, boost our graduation rates and ensure that our nation is once again the world’s leader in cultivating skilled talent. In short, we must seek at every step to enable children to succeed.
The DREAM Act being considered in Congress helps us do that. It would stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, who brought them to America as minors. It creates a rigorous and lengthy process for them to earn their legal status by either pursuing a higher education or serving in the armed forces.
Every day, I witness people all across this country making extraordinary efforts to improve their lives and the lives of their families. However, too many motivated young people who grew up in America today find themselves in a black hole after graduating from high school and seeking to take the next step. Every year, 65,000 students, many of whom have excelled academically and have been part of their community – in high school athletics, in student government or academic clubs and as volunteers – find out that they were brought to the United States as children, but never gained legal status. Their dreams and their talent are put on hold.
This means their potential contributions to our economy and our nation are put on hold, too. Future doctors, scientists, EMTs, health care workers, teachers and entrepreneurs are waiting in the wings.
The same is true of those same young people who want to serve in our military. One of my favorite parts of my role as second lady is the time I spend meeting service members, military families, veterans and wounded warriors – people who honor us with their service across this country and around the world. An astounding 35,000 of those service members today are not U.S. citizens, and about 8,000 permanent residents, who are not yet citizens, enlist every year. These service members are prepared to make the greatest sacrifice for our country and have earned the right to be called Americans.
I’m a military mom myself, and I will never forget the day my son told me he had joined the National Guard. He was already a lawyer with a young family, but he felt strongly that he wanted to serve our country. I can honestly say that I worried every single day that he was deployed in Iraq.
So I understand all too well the mixture of pride and fear that all military families share. That’s why I feel such great respect for these youngsters and their families, who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, even though they are not yet citizens.
For two centuries immigrants have come from around the world to help build America. The young people awaiting action on the DREAM Act are no different.
For our nation, the DREAM Act means success. It means enabling a new generation of immigrants who have grown up as Americans to improve themselves and help build our country through hard work, determination and patriotism. Those are American values they already possess.
The power of the talent of these young future-Americans is immense. Whether they want to serve our military or further their education, it’s in our nation’s best interest to make that possible. Let’s put their talent to good use.