Congress should pass the DREAM Act in lame-duck session

In America, we do not hold children liable for crimes committed by their parents. Not, that is, unless the crime is illegal entry into the country. Then the children, who had no choice in the decision to immigrate, are nevertheless held to answer for their parents’ illegal action.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these children are not to be held liable for their immigration status when it comes to their education. Therefore, they are eligible to attend public primary and secondary schools. However, present law makes no provision for a path to citizenship for these students. Nor does it open an opportunity for higher education.

In many cases, these are children who were brought into the country at such an early age they remember little or nothing of their country of origin. They have, with the adaptability of children, Americanized themselves. They dream American dreams.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, is a narrowly drafted law to address this specific group of young people. The act would open a road to citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who have been residents of the country for five years, earned their high school diploma or GED equivalent, and either completed two years of college or served for two years in the military.

President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate are pressing for passage of the DREAM Act in the lame-duck session. If it fails to pass now, supporters fear it may be at least 2013 until it comes before Congress again. During that time, another 150,000 high school students could graduate into legal limbo.

Once undocumented students graduate from high school, they lose their right to public education. Despite academic records that would qualify them for admission to public colleges and universities, these immigrant children are required to pay out-of-state tuition. Often this prohibitive cost puts college beyond reach.

Examples are not hard to find, even locally. A second-year mechanical engineering student at Mesa State College is typical. His yearly expenses are nearly $10,000 for tuition, books and supplies. To pay his rent, food and utilities, he works 35 hours per week making $8.50 per hour. Meantime, he maintains a 3.5 grade point average.

Unfortunately, the private scholarship that has helped him meet expenses will expire in a few months. He does not know how he will continue his education.

There is also the young woman who thinks it is “important to give back to my community in the same way that my community was teaching me how to be a successful ‘citizen.’ “

Unable to afford higher education, and unable to apply for employment because she is not a legal resident, she says, “I am a victim of a broken immigration system.”

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “Approximately 55,000 students a year could qualify for achieving citizenship through the DREAM Act.”

If we are to educate our way to a better economy, Duncan said, “We have to have a much better educated workforce ... we need folks who can function well in a knowledge economy. (There’s) an untapped pool of talent who are being denied the opportunity.”

There is also the waste of thousands of dollars spent on an education that will not be allowed to make a return on investment.

The DREAM Act has languished since it was introduced as a bipartisan effort by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin D-Ill., in 2001. Reintroduced in March 2009, again with bipartisan support, it was filibustered by Republicans to prevent it coming to a vote this September.

In a final effort before losing their majority, House Democrats hope to pass the bill with bipartisan support. Its fate in the Senate, however, is uncertain, despite pledges of some Republican support.

It is time for the Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with the lives of children. To quote the young woman referenced above, “We are not criminals, we don’t hurt anyone, and we are hard workers who love this country.” What more should we ask before opening the door to the American dream for these children?

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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