The nine men and women sitting in the Eloy Detention Center knew what they were doing as they approached the Morley Gate in Nogales July 22. They knew they had no way to legally cross and would be detained as part of the asylum request process, that they might be in custody for months before their fate was decided.

What the "Dream 9" didn't know and still don't is whether they will be deported back to Mexico or allowed to return to the United States, the country they have called home for most of their lives.

The group - made up of three activists who left the country as an act of civil disobedience and six others whose motives for leaving range from educational to medical concerns - are all young adults who were brought into the country illegally as children and grew up as Americans. They have risked their futures to make a point: to revive interest in the issue of immigration while the Republican-controlled House tries to ignore it to death.

Deporting these dreamers would serve no positive purpose. They are productive members of society who only want a chance to continue contributing to the United States. They should be allowed to stay.

Whether you agree with their tactics or not or believe they are self-entitled lawbreakers or victims of a broken immigration system, it's undeniable that it was an action born of frustration and desperation. More than 10 years after the original Dream Act was proposed, these young men and women - Americans in word and deed - continue to be denied the opportunities many of us take for granted.

Not only has the promise of the Dream Act been repeatedly denied, they have now watched as the Senate's immigration reform bill has hit a wall in the House, losing the momentum that almost elevated 11 million people out of the shadows. Almost. So close. Maybe next time.

No wonder they're angry, no wonder they're not willing to wait anymore.

Ironically, allowing immigrants brought here illegally as children the chance to become citizens has become the least controversial piece of immigration reform, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., working on a bill with Majority Leader Eric Cantor to allow dreamers to legalize their status.

While this would be an important step, with more than 1 million young adults eligible to benefit from this legislation, it ignores the other 10 million people who would still be left behind. The House's piecemeal efforts will continue to warp the nation's immigration system. Comprehensive reform is still the only credible response.

The Dream 9's situation shines a spotlight on the dysfunctional nature of our current immigration system. It's easy to take a hard line and say they broke the law and must pay the price. But the law here is far from right and wrong. As it is, the system is a mishmash of selective enforcement that mirrors the conflicting ethical and legal issues involved in immigration.

The dreamers were in the United States illegally, yes. But if they had stayed in the country most would have been fine. Thanks to the Obama administration's application of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, most could go about their business without fear of being deported. But their parents couldn't, and neither could their siblings under 15.

In a letter to President Obama, 33 House members - including Arizona Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ed Pastor - have asked the administration to allow the dreamers to come home. The legislators say they believe that returning these young people to their homes is an important first step to an immigration system that respects the humanity and dignity of immigrant families.

Some would argue that allowing the Dream 9 to stay will only open the floodgates. What about the next nine? The next 90? The next 900?

If they are Dream Act-eligible, they too should be allowed back. The Senate's immigration bill allows some dreamers who are no longer in the country to return. Why would anyone want to keep out smart, dedicated young Americans?

And they are Americans. They grew up here, they share the customs and values we all share. They add to the cultural richness of the United States.

Most immigrants believe in hard work, in a better life through struggle. They believe America is still the land of the free, the home of the brave. For these dreamers America is their home. They are brave. They should be free.

Arizona Daily Star