DREAM Act seeks education equity

Imagine this. A mother, trying to escape the poverty of her country, comes to the United States with her three-year-old son. He grows up here. Goes to school and does well. In high school he’s in “the Honors Program and take[s] three Advanced Placement classes.” In his senior year he starts looking at what college or university to attend only to find out that he may not be able to afford the tuition because it is higher for him than for others in his class.

That’s what’s happening to Dario, a high school honors student from Maryland. Dario and his family are undocumented immigrants and are not considered residents of the state for tuition purposes.

In Maryland, out-of-state residents pay from one to three times more tuition than state residents at state universities and colleges. But these numbers don’t just reflect the situation in Maryland. Similar figures are found in every state of the Union.

Federal law prohibits states from giving undocumented immigrants “postsecondary education benefits” unless they extend the same benefits to all U.S. citizens. This means that state schools cannot treat these students as residents for tuition purposes nor give them any other help that is not available to all U.S. citizens. However, a number of states have gotten around this provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 by granting in-state rates to graduates of high schools from that state.

But on April 9, a bill was introduced in Congress to change the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act so that all in-state students, no matter their immigration status, are eligible for the in-state tuition rates. The bill, the Student Adjustment Act (HR-1684), was introduced with 30 co-sponsors, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. A Senate version, to be called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, is expected to be filed soon.

These bills would facilitate state efforts to provide in-state tuition rates to immigrant students who were raised in the U.S. and have graduated from U.S. high schools. The legislation would also permit certain immigrant students to apply for legal residency so that they can finish school and work legally.

These bills are being supported by a number of civil rights, labor and immigrant organizations who are lobbying members of Congress for support. Getting GOP legislators’ support is important, but challenging, in light of a move by some far-right Republicans to limit legal immigration to the U.S.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and a number of other GOP legislators filed a bill to permit no more than 300,000 immigrants into this country. When the Denver Post carried a front-page story, last year, on the problems of undocumented immigrant youth, Tancredo demanded that the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrest and deport the family featured. Tancredo later came under attack when a number of undocumented workers told the Denver Post that they had worked on remodeling the Congressman’s home.

Among the organizations actively supporting the DREAM Act are the National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, United Students Against Sweatshops, National PTA, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), AFL-CIO, Asian Pacific Labor Alliance, and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation.