President Mark Emmert recently wrote to Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell demonstrating his support for the federal Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) act. If passed, this piece of legislation would allow undocumented immigrant students to stay in the United States and eventually become eligible for citizenship after completion of either a college degree or two years of military service. While this piece of legislation undeniably opens debate on the issue of immigration laws, the education of a new generation of working professionals remains vitally important in a growing global economy.
First introduced by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the DREAM act was reintroduced by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in March 2009 after failing to pass in 2007. The DREAM act specifies that eligible youth must have been living in the United States “for at least five consecutive years prior to enactment of the bill,” have arrived in the United States before they were 16, and have graduated high school or obtained their GED. In addition to these requirements, they must be of “good moral character,” a quality specified as necessary but left largely undefined by current citizenship laws.
The DREAM act would allow these students to be considered conditional permanent residents of the state in which they reside. As a result, this would allow them to be eligible for federal work-study programs and student loans but not for federal financial aid, such as the Pell grant.
Some label it as amnesty that would only encourage more illegal immigrants to seek refuge in the United States, but others say that the DREAM act is a worthy piece of legislation that would better fit alongside larger-scale reform to current immigration laws.
Regardless of these objections, Emmert’s support of this bill raises some obvious questions in regards to the expectations he holds for these students and for undocumented immigrants in general. Although passing this act would allow talented, hardworking and motivated young people who would otherwise be, under usual circumstances, unable to receive a higher education, and eventually U.S. citizenship, to do so, the incongruities between the legality of undocumented immigrants and this proposition remain a source of debate.
Although legislation would allow the approximately 65,000 undocumented college-age students in the United States to receive formal higher education at state universities throughout the country while working toward citizenship, it does so by offering an extremely contradictory message: Undocumented immigration is definitely illegal, but if you do happen to make it successfully into the country, you’re welcome to attend our schools.
Passing this act could be seen as an act of supporting an influx of undocumented immigrants, which is, after all, illegal. However, the opportunity for these people to become active and educated citizens of the Unites Stated outweighs the overarching issue of illegal immigration. Because these people will become portions of the next generation of educated professionals — people necessary to compete in a growing, global economy — higher education is not merely an option, it is a necessity.
Reach columnist Emily McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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