Undocumented Youth Pin DREAMs on Congressional Action

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Every year, undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. along with their young children. These kids grow up in the U.S., speak English, and hang out with their friends just like other American kids. But unlike their classmates, they cannot join the military, work, or pursue their dreams because they don’t have legal status. Every year, roughly 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, but many don’t apply for college, even when they’re at the top of their class, because they can’t afford it. These hard-working students are not eligible for loans or work study and must often pay high out-of-state or international tuition rates. They often live in fear of detection by immigration authorities. The DREAM Act—which would benefit these students as well as the U.S. economy—proposes to fix these problems, but not without the political will of Congress.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the “DREAM Act” (S. 729 and H.R. 1751), addresses the plight of young undocumented immigrants who, growing up in the United States, wish to go to college and obtain lawful employment. By providing a path to legal permanent status, the DREAM Act would create a needed incentive for students to stay in school, pursue higher education or join the military.

According to a new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), approximately 114,000 potential beneficiaries with at least an associate’s degree would be immediately eligible for conditional legal permanent resident (LPR) status. Another 612,000 potential beneficiaries would be immediately eligible for conditional status because they already have a high school diploma or GED and 934,000 children under 18 could be eligible for conditional LPR status in the future under the DREAM Act.

Experts report that the DREAM Act would have economic and social benefits for the U.S. According to a fact check by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), the DREAM Act would:

  • Provides an opportunity to raise individual wages and the resulting tax contributions. If legalized, these students would get a better education and better jobs and would earn more and pay more in taxes.
  • Allow legalized immigrants to invest in the U.S. economy. Removing the uncertainty of unauthorized status allows legalized immigrants to earn higher wages and move into higher-paying occupations, and also encourages them to invest more in their own education, open bank accounts, buy homes, and start businesses.
  • Reduce the drop-out rate for immigrant students by creating a strong incentive for undocumented students to remain in school until graduation
  • Help universities by increasing school revenues as students who would not normally attend college start to pay tuition.
  • Aid military recruiting. According to West Point Professor Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, the DREAM Act “would be tremendously beneficial to the military. It gives the opportunity to enlist hundreds of thousands of high-quality people.”

On the legislative end, the DREAM Act has come up for a vote several times in past years and has garnered as many as 48 co-sponsors in the Senate and 152 in the House; it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee twice; and it received more than 50 votes as a stand-alone bill. Yet it has failed to become law. Some Members of Congress who support DREAM in principle have voted against it because they want to see it pass as part of a broader immigration reform effort and fear that passage of the DREAM Act alone would hamper the possibility of larger reform. For example, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)—then a Republican, now a Democrat—voted against the bill because he thought it would weaken the chances of CIR, not because he disagreed with the contents of the bill. According to a recent poll, the DREAM Act has garnered public support across party lines with as many as 70% of Americans favoring the DREAM Act.

Recently, many Republicans have come under fire for supporting any form of immigration “amnesty,” including the DREAM Act, and some former supporters have switched their positions. Earlier this May, five immigrants sat in the office of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and refused to leave, asking him to sponsor DREAM. In past years, Senator McCain was a co-sponsor for the DREAM Act, but became more conservative on immigration issues during his 2008 presidential campaign and continues to do so during his 2010 Senate campaign, where he is facing a primary challenge from the right.

michelle-waslinResearch has shown that the DREAM Act would be a boon to the economy and the U.S. workforce. Moreover, the DREAM Act create an opportunity for many young people to get on the path to permanent legal status, improve their education, invest in themselves and their communities, and serve their country. But for the DREAM Act to pass, it would likely need the support of both the moderate Republicans who supported it in the past, as well as the Democrats who may be holding out hope for CIR.

Michele Waslin

Republished with permission from Immigration Impact.

Published by the LA Progressive on July 15, 2010
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About Michele Waslin

Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. She has authored several publications on immigration policy and post-9/11 immigration issues. Ms. Waslin appears regularly in English and Spanish-language media. Previously, she worked as Director of Immigration Policy Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Policy Coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She received her Ph.D. in 2002 in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Science from Creighton University. (mwaslin@ailf.org)