By Elliot Cole
Texas Civil Rights Project
Each year, roughly three million students graduate from US high schools. Some students enter the workforce directly, while others opt for the armed services. Many, however, choose to go college, developing their potential through academics.
However, 65,000 graduates will never have that option, including tens of thousands in Texas. They are prom queens, honor students, and athletes. They are tutors, class representatives, and valedictorians. Nonetheless, no matter their ability, they will be denied the ability to become doctors, teachers, or to pursue a law degree.
Though they have lived in the US for almost all of their lives, these students have inherited the label of undocumented immigrant, and for that will not be able to pursue upper education. Simply because they were born in another country they are treated as second-class citizens, disallowed from pursuing their respective dreams. This is counter-productive, foolish, and unwarrantable.
On March 26, 2009, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was introduced in Congress to give those dreams back. The proposed law provides a six-year conditional residency during which undocumented graduates can pursue a two-year degree, attend two years of a four-year degree, or serve two years in the military. An immigrant who completes any of those three conditions and is otherwise in good legal standing at the time will earn a well-deserved permanent residency. Immigrants would not be eligible for federal college grants, but would be able to apply for student loans and work study.
With the support of President Obama and senators and Congress members on all sides of the political landscape, the DREAM Act is as an opportunity. It’s a chance to be fair and to readjust our attitude toward students who have done nothing but strive toward becoming contributing members of society.
The students affected by the DREAM Act have not committed a crime against our country, as some will argue. They are simply the children of illegal immigrants. They know no home other than the United States. It is time we embrace them rather than act as if they did not exist. This is their community, and they will be able to contribute to our society with a college education.
In the current economic struggle, passing the DREAM Act makes even more sense. By introducing an educated group to the workforce, more taxes will be paid, more jobs created, more goods purchased, and more businesses founded. Every year we turn away thousands of students graduating from our high schools who could contribute to this economy. It’s contradictory and senseless.
Some may argue that the influx of these new students to the state colleges would somehow make state universities suffer. In truth, the state school system will benefit from the new student pool, and the bill already has support from university presidents nationwide.
The DREAM Act is an investment in our country’s collective future. With passage of the bill, dedicated graduates will not be barred from an education; they will be able to help their communities — and society as a whole — grow and flourish.
The DREAM Act has backing from all sectors of society, from religious leaders to universities. It has bipartisan backing from coast-to-coast. With the advantages it will provide our state, it should have the support of Texans as well.
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The Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit foundation, promotes civil rights and economic and racial justice throughout Texas, attempting to bring about systemic change through education and litigation.