Thursday, February 25, 2010

Realizing the Dream Act

The Dream Act is one of those legislative imperatives, like the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that has been lingering around the halls of the U.S. Congress for years, receiving waxing and waning attention and support as political agendas shift. When Comprehensive Immigration Reform seemed to be gaining headway back in 2006, the DREAM Act was the carrot offered against the many sticks for undocumented immigrants contained in the bill. So what's it all about?

The DREAM Act portal website accurately describes the bill thusly:
Under the rigorous provisions of the DREAM Act, undocumented young people could be eligible for a conditional path to citizenship in exchange for completion of a college degree or two years of military service. Undocumented young people must also demonstrate good moral character to be eligible for and stay in conditional residency.

The basic argument for the DREAM Act is as follows.

1.) Children in the United States are guaranteed access to a K-12 public education, without any regard whatsoever to their immigration status. This has been so since 1983, when the landmark case Plyler v. Doe was handed down by the Supreme Court. The case struck down a Texas statute that would have denied access to public school education by children not "legally admitted" into the US. The logic of the Court (very simplified) was that the 5th and 14th amendment protects all people in the US (not just citizens) against discrimination/ deprival of rights, and therefore in order for the law to be constitutional, it must be rationally related to a substantial state interest. On the contrary, denying education to children was more likely to hurt state interests by relegating the children to a permanent underclass. Not to mention it was especially cruel to punish the children for the actions of the parents (ie, illegally crossing into the country.) Since 1983 this principle has been instituted in school districts across the country and has never been sucessfully challenged.

2.) Having received a high school education, many of these students would naturally have been prepared for the next step in education: a college degree. This makes sense, doesn't it? High school is increasingly geared towards preparation for a college degree, and having been educated in English and participated in the same kind of exams, extracurricular activities, and college prep programs, why wouldn't some or all of these students want to take the next step as many of their classmates?

3.) However, college, for most undocumented students, is an unattainable goal. Not only do most colleges require proof of citizenship, but they have proven particularly loathe to try to delve into the variety of non-illegal immigration statuses (such as temporary protective status or NACARA in cash, all at once. (See, for example: EAE v. Merten.) In sum, undocumented students face massive barriers to a college education, and have to find alternatives for after their high school education.

4.) The same arguments used in Plyler are applicable to college education. Why should students that were brought into the country at a young age be denied the opportunity to improve their career opportunities years later? In a sense, this situation forces otherwise bright and talented students to limit themselves to the kinds of jobs that do not require a college education- meaning that the U.S. deprives its economy of potential doctors, lawyers, scientists, ect, that are so needed. Not to mention that it is just patently unfair to continue to punish these children for the actions of their parents. These are often students that speak English and have otherwise completely assimilated into society, but are cut off from reaching their dreams because of... well, why, actually? I guess that's the point of the DREAM Act.

Apparently, this week will see an intensive lobbying effort on behalf of the DREAM Act by undocumented students in Congress. Whether it will have more success this time around is anyone's guess, but in my opinion it is only a matter of time before we stop depriving our society of the talents of first generation immigrants in this unjust way.

Some interesting articles:

Great old editorial from the NY Times: Pass the Dream Act
Will Perez: A New Civil Rights Movement

And here's a blog, ostensibly by an undocumented youth, about his efforts to get the DREAM Act passed. The Dream Blog

(Photo via Florida Immigrant Coalition Blog)

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