We have all been following the story of Eric Balderas, the Harvard student, who came to this country illegally as a 4-year old with his mother. As valedictorian of his Texan high school, he is now studying biology on a full scholarship to Harvard. He was detained in Texas after visiting his mother and faces deportation. It gets you thinking.
On May 11, Salem CyberSpace feted its own high school seniors who all graduated high school in 4 years and are all going on to college in the fall. 70% of these students also came with their parents to the U.S. as immigrants.
Some of them came with one parent, leaving one parent behind and some came alone, without either parent, to live with relatives. They came because their parents wanted them to get US education, go to a US college and get a job that pays well and offers opportunity to advance. Our youth had no say in their family’s decision to come here. Most of them told me they did not want to come to the US – not unexpected of adolescents who generally find change and separation traumatic. They left friends, the place that was home with all the stability that home offers and came to a foreign country. Yet they came and like most resilient youth, they adjusted.
Although these students face many obstacles, most of them are in this country with permanent residency status making them eligible for federal financial aid to pay for a college education. Without this aid, there isn’t one child in our program who could afford to go to college, even community college, where the annual tuition and fees comes to about $4,000 per year.
However, not all the students are so fortunate. There are an estimated 2.5 million students under 18 years old in the US who are undocumented. Like our students they had no choice in coming to the US but when they got here, many do manage to jump all of the hurtles to successfully graduate high school. It is a pyrrhic victory of sorts because once they are out of high school, they are not only ineligible for federal financial aid to go to college but they also are not allowed to work to pay for their own education.
Since 2001, Congress has been debating ways to provide a pathway to college for these students who often times only know the United States as home. In 2007, the first version of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, came to the floor of the Senate. After three unsuccessful years to pass the bill, (last vote in 2009 was 52-44, 8 votes short of a filibuster-proof bill) another version will be introduced in 2010 which many believe have a chance of passing. Many changes were made to the bill reflecting comments from opposition leaders and this bill appears to have bipartisan support.
The Dream Act of 2010 only addresses a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students, ages 12 – 35 who wish to go to college or enlist in the military. It is not a broad-based immigration reform bill.
“Supporters of the DREAM Act believe it is vital not only to the people who would benefit from it, but also the United States as a whole. It would give an opportunity to undocumented immigrant students who have been living in the U.S. since they were young, a chance to contribute back to the country that has given so much to them and a chance to utilize their hard earned education and talents.”
All of the eligibility rules can be found on the Dream Act Portal http://dreamact.info/
There are, however, two important items of note.
- It only applies to students already in this country for 5 years prior to the enactment of the bill who arrived here at the age of 15 or younger. This is not an open-ended amnesty
- It does NOT require states to provide these students with in-state tuition. Currently only 9 states do provide in-state tuition for undocumented students.
What is the Path to Citizenship? While in school or in the military, you would have a Conditional Permanent Residency. After 6 years the student or military personnel can apply for Permanent Residency (green card) if they have served at least 2 years in the military or completed 2 years of college.
If you are interested in following this, there is Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dream-Act-2010/194780943549
The United States was built on the strength, hard work and courage of immigrants. We should allow these youth, many of them who barely remember their home countries, and think of themselves as Amercian, to stay and contribute productively and bravely to the US. This seems like a no-brainer.
 “Undocumented Students” UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education
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