DREAM Act renews hope for immigrant students

By the end of this school year, an estimated 65,000 undocumented youth will graduate from our nation’s high schools. Children are brought to the U.S. by impoverished hard-working parents seeking a better life for their families in the world’s richest economy.

Immigrant children attend K-12 schools and grow up in the U.S. sharing in American cultural and traditional values. Like their U.S.-born peers, immigrant youth have the same aspirations in pursuing a higher education. But undocumented youth are typically barred from the opportunities that make a college education affordable and accessible: in-state tuition rates, state and federal grants and loans, private scholarships, and the ability to work legally to earn their way through college.

Last November, a bipartisan group of senators led by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, S 2075. If passed, the DREAM Act would facilitate access to postsecondary educational opportunities for immigrant students who currently face barriers in receiving a college education. It would enable hard-working immigrant youth who have grown up in the U.S. the chance to advance their legal status and fully contribute to the progress of their communities.

Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Center for Community Change, calls passage of this bill “imperative” saying it “represents a significant first step towards comprehensive immigration reform.”

“These students are on the honor roll, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, aspiring teachers, doctors and American soldiers,” she said. “Once passed, this legislation would allow these students to legally pursue the American dream and contribute to society.”

To qualify for assistance under the DREAM Act, students must have come to the U.S. at least five years ago, and have been under the age of 16 at the time. Upon acceptance to college, these students would qualify for conditional permanent resident status after graduation from high school or with a GED certificate. Conditional permanent resident status would be granted for six years, after which students would need to petition to have the conditions removed. During the six years, students must graduate from college or accrue at least two years of college or military service.

The Senate Judiciary Committee must consider and approve the DREAM Act before the full Senate can take up the bill. A companion bill will be introduced in the House.

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said in a press release, “The DREAM Act unleashes the enormous potential of thousands of young students, giving them the freedom to dream of a future with genuine educational, job, and life opportunities. This bill is about giving every student who graduates from high school in this country the chance to go to college.”

Also before Congress is the extremely repressive anti-immigrant measure passed by the House, HR 4437. Over and above the important, growing debate on HR 4437, many say the DREAM Act must be addressed on its own merits. Supporters say the DREAM Act will have a positive impact on educational opportunities, fairness to children, and the advancement of equal rights to a higher education for all immigrants living in the U.S. They urge the public to contact their senators and tell them to pass the DREAM Act.