The DREAM Act: A Campus Perspective

In the last days of a Democrat-controlled Congress, passage of the DREAM Act still glimmers as a possibility, offering a pathway to legal immigration status for hundreds of thousands of undocumented children and young adults who have known the United States as their only home. The beneficiaries of the DREAM Act were often brought to the United States as infants or very young children, and identify as culturally American. The act would limit the age of beneficiaries to 29, with naturalization a possibility in fourteen years, and sponsorship of parents or siblings possible in fifteen years. Without its passage, the individuals will continue to exist in the shadows of our society, unable to participate freely in our society and economy.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), in its report Estimating the Impact of the DREAM Act, found that "institutions of higher education overwhelmingly support the DREAM Act, which would likely increase school revenues as students who would not normally attend college start to pay tuition." Undocumented students attend school by the thousands in our country, often unaware of their status until they apply and learn that they cannot qualify for any federal financial aid or scholarships. They study in limbo, unsure of their prospects after graduation because they can't work legally, even if they earn perfect grades. Under the act, they could work legally to earn money to offset the soaring costs of higher education. If they were to marry a U.S. citizen, the citizen spouse cannot legalize the status of a person who has been undocumented since infancy. Many undocumented immigrants have lived here since they were infants, and have parents who were granted amnesty under IRCA in 1986; their siblings were born here, and are citizens. Yet our immigration system is a maze of dead ends and impossibilities, even for those who have no criminal record, earn a college degree, speak perfect English, and know no other home outside the United States.

It is politically unwise to punish the innocent of young and future generations, thereby creating a permanent underclass of invisible people who have contributed to our economy and taxes. Ensuring that each member of our society has a lawful status is a safety and security issue. One need only look to France and Germany to see the consequences of political isolation - North Africans in France, and Turks in Germany, have become more politically agitated and frustrated as those countries' immigration laws have made it impossible for them to belong to the only home they know.

By the same token, undocumented students create a second class on campus. They may feel intimated or marginalized in classes where issues are discussed that directly impact them. Imagine a class where students debate "illegal immigration." In Oklahoma and Arizona, which have passed stringent state immigration laws, public institutions cannot "shelter or transport illegal immigrants." Think for a moment what this implicates for university housing, or municipal transport. Consider further that private universities and schools can create their own internal policies to exclude undocumented students from even applying to their schools, occasionally citing the political opinions of their donors and alumni. Undocumented students can attend a public institution, paying full fare, but little else beyond that. Whether one views education as a market commodity or a civil right, it is clear that undocumented students' access to education is restricted.

The DREAM Act is about justice. The undocumented immigrant population in the United States is not simply a group of people who can be removed from our country. Their parents, children, and spouses are frequently citizens and permanent residents. No one benefits when family members of citizens and permanent residents are threatened with removal or treated as criminals.