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We have talked often in this column about Latinos and education. And I mean “we.” Whenever I write about this subject, you the reader respond.

Sometimes sharply, wondering why others should care about Hispanic students, especially those who came here illegally with their parents. And my retort back usually is this: How will we keep expanding our economy if one of the fastest growing groups of workers is not ready for the jobs the brain-fueled global marketplace demands?

Latinos, of course, are that fast-growing group. And judging by how many public school students are Hispanic, those numbers will keep increasing.

As mentioned here recently, about half the students in the two largest states — California and Texas — are Hispanic. And The New York Times reports that immigrants, many of whom are Latinos, are fueling the biggest growth in public schools since the baby boom.

Yes, some immigrants live in families with one or more illegal parent. Thank goodness federal law obligates schools to educate them. Think how far we’d be behind if we didn’t educate them from kindergarten through 12th grade. We’d have even a larger number of people wandering the streets without even the basics of education, unable to find gainful employment.

What we must do next is move more Latino children through college. (Only 16 percent of Latinos between age 25 and 29 have a college degree.) And that includes children of illegal immigrants.

Last month, rallies were held in several cities to urge Congress to embrace this goal. The voices included illegal immigrants who know they can’t get a job if they go to college because of their immigration status.

Never mind that most students in their situation spent their formative years in the United States. Never mind that they speak English. Never mind that they have scores high enough to get into college.

Taking that next step will get them nowhere because of their immigration status.

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar has the best take on this: “We shouldn’t punish these kids because of their parents’ decisions,” his office responded when I asked why the Indianan is co-authoring the Dream Act with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

The legislation would grant a conditional immigration status to children of illegal immigrants who came here when they were 15 or younger and have lived here five years — if they are accepted into college, graduate from high school or earn a GED.

No jailbirds could apply, nor security risks. But qualifiers would have six years to complete two years of a four-year degree, graduate from a community or vocational school or serve two years in the military. (They wouldn’t qualify for all student aid, but they would for some loans, including in-state tuition rates.)

If they met one of those requirements, they could start becoming a permanent legal resident alien. That’s not the same as a citizen, so they aren’t jumping ahead of any citizenship line. But they could employ the talents they’ve developed here in our economy.

Sure, I guess we could try to deport every illegal immigrant. But I don’t see how we do that. Meanwhile, some have been here so long they have no mother country other than ours. Why should we lose their talent to some nation with which they have little connection?

Think also of these realities:

— How can teachers motivate students who are here illegally if those students know they college is a dead-end for them?

— Assimilating the large number of immigrants into American life is a big national challenge. The Dream Act is one way to help illegal immigrants who aren’t going back home integrate into our society through serving in the military or going to college.

That’s better than having them live in isolation from the mainstream, and it all starts in school. This issue of Latinos and education is one we’re going to have to keep talking about, whether we like it or not.

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