Over three million students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Most get the opportunity to pursue a college degree, strive for their vocational goals, and reach for their American dream. According to the PEW Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C, however, approximately 65,000 youths do not get this opportunity because they are smeared with the inherited label of being illegal immigrants. These youths have lived in the United States for most of their lives and want to be recognized as Americans.
Congress is attempting to provide immigration relief for undocumented youths through legislation known as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act). The Act has been introduced in each subsequent Congressional session in various forms, for the last 10 years since 2001. The latest version passed the House in December 2010, but was defeated in the Senate. This year, on May 11, three Democratic Senators – Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey – reintroduced the DREAM Act in the Senate. This came just a few days after the California State Assembly approved California’s version of the Act. The legislators, together with 29 other Senators, including Barbara Boxer of California, advocated for the bill that died in the Senate, arguing it is long overdue and beneficial for the national economy.
Under the rigorous provisions of the DREAM Act, qualifying undocumented youths would be eligible for 6-year conditional permanent resident status. The DREAM Act requires applicants to have come to the United States before reaching the age of 16, lived in the United States continuously for at least five years since their arrival, earned a high-school degree, and demonstrate good moral character. Under the latest version, the cut-off age for applying is 30 years old at the time of the bill’s passage. Within the six year period, a qualified student must acquire a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or complete at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States, or must have served in the armed services for at least two years and, if discharged, have received an honorable discharge. If the permanent resident status is terminated for not fulfilling requirements, then, according to the terms of the Act, the person shall return to the immigration status that he or she had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under the DREAM Act.
Supporters of the DREAM Act argue that bright, hard-working youths who grew up in the United States and call it home deserve a path to legal immigration. They say that tens of thousands of immigrant students with good grades are shut out of pursuing their educational objectives and vocational goals, which will benefit the American community, simply because of their undocumented status.
Many of these students were brought to the United States by their parents at a young age, through no fault of their own, and have spent most of their lives here. As President Barack Obama said in his speech about immigration reform, “These are kids who grew up in this country, love this country, and know no other place as home. The idea that we would punish them is cruel and it makes no sense. We are a better nation than that.”
According to its proponents, the DREAM Act would benefit the U.S Armed Forces and the national economy, and help push our education system forward. The Defense Department’s Fiscal Year 2010-12 Strategic Plan includes the DREAM Act as a means to help shape and maintain a mission-ready all-volunteer force, said Senator Boxer. Endorsed by General Colin Powell, the DREAM Act is also supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has said it “will result in improved recruitment results and attendant gains in unit manning and military performance.”
A Congressional Budget Office analysis estimated the House version of the DREAM Act would reduce deficits by about $2.2 billion and increase revenues by $1.7 billion over the 2011-2020 period. It estimates that the Senate version of the legislation would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion and increase revenue by $2.3 billion over the 2011-2020 period. Removing the uncertainty of undocumented status not only would allow legalized immigrants to earn higher wages, but also encourage them to invest more in their own education, open bank accounts, buy homes, and start businesses.
Passage of the DREAM Act would add thousands of talented, motivated, multilingual and multicultural persons into our workforce. As President Obama said in his address to Congress, creating an educated workforce will increase productivity and help the U.S compete in the global economy. The 10 states that, since 2001, have passed laws allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition have not experienced an overwhelming influx of new immigrant students who displace native-born students. In fact, the states benefited from an increase in school revenues as undocumented students who would not normally attend college began paying in-state tuition.
Opponents of illegal immigration have expressed antipathy toward various DREAM Act proposals in recent years and have made it difficult for bills to be approved. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which opposes illegal immigration, said that the DREAM Act would provide “amnesty” for illegal immigrants instead of punishing them for immigrating illegally.
Opponents believe the DREAM Act will promote more illegal immigration or will lead to false claims by immigrants that they came here as children. They argue it would destroy the U.S. economy while putting national security at risk. Further, they believe that undocumented students have and will continue to receive favored treatment under affirmative action policies at colleges and universities, effectively displacing U.S. citizen youth.
Despite the arguments against the DREAM Act, there is widespread support for it. If enacted, the DREAM Act would have a life-changing impact on qualifying, eligible youth, who would in turn make positive contributions to U.S. society and economy. For many of these youths, the United States is the only home they know and English is their first language. Each year, tens of thousands of them graduate from primary school or secondary school, often at the top of their classes. They have the potential to be future doctors, nurses, teachers, and entrepreneurs, but they experience unique hurdles to live up to their fullest potential in this country. Through no fault of their own, their lack of status often prevents them from attending college or working legally. While the DREAM Act would allow undocumented youths to make greater contributions to the U.S. economy and society, its passage remains uncertain due to strong anti-immigrant sentiments and ongoing concerns about securing the nation’s borders.
Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for an individual case or situation. The information is intended to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice, consult an attorney experienced in immigration law.