By: Atty. Robert L. Reeves and Juliana L. Butler
In high schools across the United States, it is estimated that 50,000 undocumented immigrants will earn their diplomas this year. For most, this will be the end of their academic careers.
Even those students with excellent grades whose teachers have encouraged higher education – students who dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, or teachers – may not have any choice but to join the thousands of illegal immigrants working such menial jobs as cleaning homes or picking fruit. Some may face an even worse fate: deportation to a country where they don’t even know the language or customs.
The reason they cannot go on to college is because they do not have any legal status in the United States. Brought here by their parents at a very young age, they speak only English, may not even know they are illegal and feel American in every way. They do not have options because they have no lawful status in the United States. They cannot attend state universities without paying out-of-state tuition. They also cannot apply for financial aid. The soaring costs of education without financial assistance makes a higher education impossible for many struggling immigrant families.
Because of the unfairness in the current situation, legislation has been proposed that would grant lawful permanent resident status as well as repeal the provision of federal law that prevents states from granting in-state tuition to undocumented aliens. For those young adults who did not make the decision to come here illegally and have grown up as Americans, the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Minor Aliens), S. 1545, would give them the opportunity to stay in the United States.
Last year, the proposed DREAM Act legislation died before the House Judiciary Committee. This year, a revised DREAM Act is before Congress and has strong bipartisan support. As with the previous bill, the DREAM Act would make lawful permanent residents of those minors who 1) came here before age 16, 2) have lived in the United States at least five years, and 3) have good moral character upon acceptance by an institution of higher learning or graduation from high school.
Although the DREAM Act has strong support, the aftermath of 9/11 has made all pro-immigrant legislation a tough sell in Congress. For the approximate 50,000 undocumented high school graduates across the country will have to wait until the DREAM becomes a reality.