Steve Chapman

But that was before anti-immigrant fever infected the party. Lugar is facing a primary challenge from a tea party favorite endorsed by the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC) -- which has called undocumented foreigners "Nazis" who "have set up ethnic cleansing zones." So the usually steadfast Lugar dropped the bill like a hot stove.

This is one issue where the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is large and distinct. In his State of the Union address, the president endorsed the bill, imploring Congress to "stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country."

Romney flatly rejects the Dream Act. His sole concession is a willingness to "study and consider" an alternative being drafted by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

But even that "compromise" is a fraud, because it would offer no plausible avenue to citizenship. It's a diamond ring without the stone.

Opponents of the Dream Act predict huge taxpayer costs as youngsters flock to public colleges at in-state rates. But why should the "dreamers" be barred from what their classmates can claim? It's easy to forget that though these kids are illegal, they are also blameless.

The complaint omits all the economic and fiscal rewards the change would yield. A UCLA study reported that gaining citizenship would boost the lifetime earnings of beneficiaries by a total of at least $1.4 trillion. Immigrants who get college degrees typically pay far more in taxes and require less in public assistance than they would otherwise. They're an asset, not a liability.

But that wins no points with Romney and Co. Theirs is an America where dreams go to die.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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