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Making DREAM a Reality
Making DREAM a Reality
By: Christie Valentine*
In a Papal message for migrant and refugee day, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the importance of supporting migrant children’s education:
These (immigrant) adolescents belong to two cultures with all the advantages and problems attached to their dual background, a condition that can nevertheless offer them the opportunity to experience the wealth of an encounter between different cultural traditions. It is important that these young people be given the possibility of attending school and subsequently of being integrated into the world of work, and that their social integration be facilitated by appropriate educational and social structures. It should never be forgotten that adolescence constitutes a fundamental phase for the formation of human beings.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of students live in fear of deportation despite considering the US their home and are barred from joining the workforce because of their immigrant status. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act’s aim is to give students who complete at least two years of higher education or military service the opportunity to receive permanent legal status, also known as a Green Card.
Pioneered by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Orin Hatch (R-UT), the DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, is bipartisan legislation. The Act passed the full Senate in May 2006 as a component of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA). However, CIRA eventually failed.
Currently, there is no mechanism to address the sad reality that many immigrant students’ talents and skills go unused. The DREAM Act would allow these promising students the opportunity to contribute to US society through granting them permanent legal status. Students who entered the country before their 16th birthday, have been in the US for at least five years, have a high school diploma or GED, demonstrate positive moral character, and have no record of criminal activity that would constitute removal would be eligible to benefit from the DREAM Act.
Critics often argue that the DREAM Act is a form of amnesty. In reality, students who would benefit from the Act have not broken any laws and did not intentionally or willfully break the law when they entered the US as children. The benefits of such a bill are vast. The DREAM Act is an investment in the future workforce of the US. Educated students will increase the productivity of the US economy and make great contributions to society. It promotes equal opportunity and sends the positive message to immigrant students that through hard work and attaining an education, their lives can improve.
Recently, there has been a significant increase in the rhetoric surrounding the DREAM Act. The Act made headline through the case of 19 year old Harvard student Eric Balderas and inspired advocates and protestors to rally around the DREAM Act. Balderas, a Mexican national who has been residing in the US since he was a child, was detained for two weeks because of his illegal immigrant status when he tried to board a plane from San Antonio to Boston. Thankfully, after weeks of protests, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it will not pursue Mr. Balderas’ removal and will allow him to continue his studies in Cambridge.
Four undocumented college students, known as the “Dreamwalkers,” made their way on foot from Miami to Washington, DC in May 2010 to raise awareness about the issues illegal students face and to demand the federal government address immigration reform.
President Obama has also incorporated the necessity for the passage of the DREAM act during his July 1st speech at American University that addressed immigration. “We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here and earn an education and contribute their talents to build the country where they've grown up. The DREAM Act would do this, and that's why I supported this bill as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator -- and why I continue to support it as president,” stated Obama.
For the first time in nine years, the DREAM Act has been strongly backed by both House and Senate leadership. It was reintroduced in both in March of 2009. According to a First Focus poll published on June 29, 2010, 70% of Americans support the Act. The DREAM Act still has a long battle to fight before it becomes law, but with the relentless commitment of advocates and lawmakers, hope remains that hundreds of thousands of students will one day benefit from this monumental reform.
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*Christie works with the Advocacy section at CLINIC
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