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This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., re-introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would afford children of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have no criminal record the chance to attend college or serve in the military. After a 10-year period of “conditional non-immigrant” status, paying a fine, a rigorous background check and a medical exam, they will have the opportunity to obtain permanent legal residency.

Opponents say the DREAM Act is amnesty. It is not. As a permanent resident, you may not vote or hold certain government jobs. Moreover, you may still be deported at any time if you break the law. The bill even clarifies that those who qualify will not be eligible for health care benefits or federal scholarships such as Pell grants.

What it is, however, is a tremendous opportunity for the United States to capitalize on bright, young, hard-working people who call this country their home.

Most agree; even prominent conservatives.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote, “The DREAM Act represents an opportunity to expand [the recruiting] pool, to the advantage of military recruiting and readiness.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “Without immigrants America would be like Europe or Japan with an aging population and no young people to come in and take care of it. We have to educate our immigrants. The DREAM Act is one way we can do this.”

The editorial boards of more than 46 national periodicals, liberal and conservative, have endorsed the passage of the DREAM Act, including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Yet just this week, Senate Republicans began circulating a letter promising to stop any proposed legislation until Democrats agree to extend Bush-era tax cuts. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who in the past actually co-sponsored DREAM, now say they will not vote for it.

Courageous students across the country have participated in sit-ins, hunger strikes and acts of civil disobedience to encourage passage of DREAM, several in North Carolina, some even from UNC. Many undocumented students have been arrested and some are even facing deportation. But as one DREAMer recently reflected, “the sacrifice of one is worth the dreams of many.”

Will we punish innocent children for the acts of their parents? Will we condemn them to a life in the shadows with no education, no hope of employment and no ability to serve their country?

It’s time for you to decide.

Pick up the phone right now and dial 866-587-3023, ask to speak with your Senator, and tell them to support the DREAM Act. Call again and speak with your Representative. A vote may be happening early next week.

This is an investment in our nation’s most valuable resource: its children. There’s no room for indifference, only for unified action.

In the words of John Lennon, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

It’s time to make the dreams of millions of America’s youth a reality. It’s time to pass the DREAM Act.

Ron Bilbao is columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior political science major from Miami, Fla. Contact him at ronbilbao@unc.edu.

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