Approval of the DREAM Act before the end of the year is an opportunity for the Senate to do the right thing for hundreds of thousands of young people who call the United States home: That was the central theme for academics who participated in a phone conference call on Monday to voice their support for a letter signed by close to 300 of their colleagues supporting the DREAM Act.

The Immigration Policy Center, which hosted the call, said in a press release issued on Monday:

The letter currently has 288 signatories representing scholars in 38 states. While scholars have for years worked to educate the public and speak out on immigration reform, this letter represents the most concerted effort among the academic community to advocate for the DREAM Act.

Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and the co-director of the Mexican Migration Program, said on the call that our current immigration model points to a military model of border and internal enforcement that alone has not stopped migration across the southern border. He pointed out that because of the economy people are not coming. There has been a quiet expansion of the guest worker program.

Massey explained that record deportation numbers set by the Obama  Administration have been off-set by the guest worker programs and an increase in legal immigration as people become legal resident and citizens.

“We’ve heard the rhetoric about regaining control of the border. Now is the time for immigration reform to move forward,” Massey said. “Migration across the southern border has fallen but the people that are here rooted and none more than the children.”

Ruben G. Rumbaut — professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who also participated in the call — pointed out that much of the public debate on immigration has been fought on myth. Nativism rails against immigration and popular belief overrules facts. Immigrants are less likely to bring crime, drugs and illness to the U.S. Languages spoken by immigrants, especially Hispanics, are not a threat to English.

“[Immigrants] are dehumanized in public discourse and live in fear of deportation,” Rumbaut added. “[If] these ambitious students are further pushed underground, it would be a tragedy if the Senate misses this opportunity to help these students.”

In Florida alone about 160,000 young people would benefit from the DREAM Act, which would create a path of conditional legal status for undocumented youth ready for higher education or to serve in the military and who arrived in the U.S. before 16 years of age.

Carola Suarez-Orozco, a professor at New York University with 20 years of experience in developmental psychology, explained that a lack of documentation casts a shadow over children’s lives: “Many,  if not most, live without realizing they are undocumented. When they graduate high school they find out about their status. The DREAM Act is good for kids acting as good students and citizens, and good for society.”

Roberto Gonzales, professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, told conference participants that in his almost 10 years of work he has interviewed over 200 undocumented youth.

Gonzales explained these young people are integrated to the U.S. legal frame work. They date, socialize and go to the prom just like their American-born peers, leaving behind the culture and language of their parents. And when provided mentorship for college, these students outperform their native-born peers.

But he adds, “They must learn what it means to be undocumented. There are 1.1 million undocumented children who will experience these negative consequences.”

Gonzales recently wrote:

Policies currently in place have presumed that making life harder would make immigrants go home; this is referred to as “attrition through enforcement.” Yet, this has not happened. To the contrary, Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform is creating a permanent underclass of marginalized, poorly educated, and low-skilled individuals, surviving in the shadows of society and facing overwhelming economic and social burdens.

For Rumbaut, “attrition assumes there is a place where people can go where they will not be miserable. Migration is a global dynamic not controlled in Congress.”

Massey warned that attrition’s effects will reach the native-born. The U.S Border Patrol is claiming the right to control population within 100 miles from the border.

Rumbaut pointed out that not passing the DREAM Act will contribute to an underclass of hundreds of thousands of young people who will not have access to jobs. And deportation does not solve the problem.

“We find 50 to 80 percent of Salvadoran deportees raised in the U.S. return to the U.S., but now they are felons, members of an underclass,” Rumbaut concluded.

Listen to the Immigration Policy Center press brief here:

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