Bar News - July 17, 2009
Opinion: Dream Act, Where Are You?
By: Enrique F. Mesa Jr. and George Bruno
One compelling issue toward immigration reform to be addressed by both Congress and the Obama Administration, is the legalization of undocumented immigrant children. These children, stuck in limbo, are innocent victims of their parents’ desire for a better life in the United States, an aspiration not unlike that of our nation’s forefathers.
Many such children arrive in the U.S. even before they are five years old and grow up believing they are U.S. citizens. Wouldn’t you believe you’re a citizen if you go to school with American children, watch the same cartoons and television shows, play the same games, cheer the same teams, and read the same books? Many times, because they are ashamed of their own illegal status, immigrant parents don’t tell their children their true status until the child comes of legal age to drive. Can you imagine telling your child, "I’m sorry you cannot apply for a driver’s license because you’re an illegal alien and if you do apply you may be deported?" Deported to a strange country and culture the child has never known. These discussions are gut-wrenching, because the child, who has done nothing wrong, is now an outlaw in the eyes of the United States.
Fortunately, stirrings of immigration reform have revived talk of the Dream Act, with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), as its leading advocate. Since 2001, some form of the Dream Act legislation has been repeatedly introduced by the House and Senate, but has yet to become law. At its core, the Dream Act would provide that illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children – defined as age 15 and under and who have lived in the U.S. for five years – could apply for a conditional legal status after graduating from high school. Provided they pay a fine, and attend college or participate in military service for at least two years, they would eventually qualify for permanent legal residence and ultimately citizenship. They would earn their way to citizenship.
Unfortunately, opponents, mostly ardent conservatives, seek to cloud the issue with anti-immigration rhetoric and stereotyping immigrants as lower-income families that will "take a lion’s share of need-based financial aid" causing colleges to suffer a financial burden. Contrarily, the College Board, comprised of over 5,000 schools, has reported that the 10 states which offer tuition aid to children of undocumented immigrants generally experience increased college revenue rather than an increased financial burden. In addition, many immigrant children are among the highest achievers in their classes.
In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, he underscored the importance of education as part of his desire to create a stronger America full of opportunities as a critical factor to revive our economy. Creating productive citizens, promoting family values, honoring our immigrant heritage, eliminating fear and exploitation, focusing on our youth, and generating additional tax revenue by putting everyone to work making the American dream a reality – legally – is good for America. Passage of the Dream Act is all about affirming the American dream. Congress and the President should get behind it and make it law.