The DREAM Act Might Be Dead, But These Kids' Hopes Are Not

They are American in everything but name. They can go to college in Texas and improve themselves. Doesn't matter. At the end of the day, they're just illegal immigrants without social security numbers or futures.

University of Houston law professor Michael Olivas says one of the reasons he believes the DREAM Act has not passed is because of all the misunderstanding surrounding the proposed bill and the fact it gets lumped in with other less specific immigration issues. One of those misunderstandings, he says, has to do with in-state tuitions.

"The tuition part, which everybody thinks is a feature of the federal DREAM Act, is only incidentally at play," Olivas says. "Even if the DREAM Act were enacted, it would still require states to enact statutes to convey in-state tuition. Tuition will always be a state matter. Even though these are very attractive beneficiaries, meaning people who have gone to college, speak English and will in all likelihood become employed once they get the authorization and so forth, they've become victims of this larger proxy war that has these political and restrictionist overtones."

In Texas, undocumented college students are not eligible for most forms of financial aid. They cannot legally receive federal money or the majority of privately funded scholarships. They are only eligible for certain state-aid packages.

Javier attracted the wrong kind of attention when he passed out fliers arguing for changes in U.S. immigration laws.
Keri Rosebraugh
Javier attracted the wrong kind of attention when he passed out fliers arguing for changes in U.S. immigration laws.
Erika Solis goes by another name in her office life.
Keri Rosebraugh
Erika Solis goes by another name in her office life.

For the moment, the DREAM Act appears dead. Olivas says one reason the bill did not pass in the Senate was because it required 60 votes rather than a simple majority. Another reason, he says, is even more political.

"Restrictionists have made this a line in the sand," he says, "and have misrepresented it beyond its importance. That is, this is a small number of students in the scheme of things. And there's the fear of comprehensive immigration reform and that this would have given the Democrats a perceived victory."

According to Senator Durbin's spokeswoman, Sandra Abrevaya, Durbin still believes passing the law would benefit the United States as a whole, but he will have to wait until after the upcoming presidential election before he re-introduces it to the U.S. Senate. She says Durbin is optimistic, but warns that there is still considerable opposition to the Act.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant advocacy group based in Los Angeles, the DREAM Act would reduce the dropout rate of immigrant students by providing an incentive for them to remain in school until graduation and help propel them towards college. This in turn would help the country's overall economy. The organization cites statistics showing that an immigrant woman who's graduated from college will pay roughly $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in criminal justice and welfare expenses each year than if she had dropped out of high school.

In addition, the DREAM Act would help alleviate a growing labor and military personnel shortage in the United States and would reduce the cost of recruiting foreign professionals if the United States stopped turning away its homegrown, though perhaps not home-born, talent.

Take "Bonnie," for example. Born in Africa, she came to the United States at 14 and is scheduled to graduate from the University of Houston in December with a double major in Italian and Spanish and a minor in Arabic. She wants to be an interpreter and has already made up her mind that because she cannot legally work here, she will have to move to Europe after graduating.

"Employers in the U.S. want to hire me, but they can't because of my status," she says, "and I'm not earning the money that I should be. I don't like having to risk not coming back here to ever see my family, but I'm not living the life I'm supposed to, so I have to go."

But to hard-liners like Gilchrist and Dane, that argument carries little weight. When asked why someone like Javier, who was brought to this country as a child, grew up playing football, is fully Americanized and is training to be a doctor, should not be permitted to legally work in the States via citizenship, their answers fall back on upholding the rule of law.

"One of the big arguments of this DREAM Act has been, 'It's just helping kids have a better life, so why punish them?'" says Dane. "And our response has always been that we're not punishing the kids for the illegal acts of the parents, we're merely not rewarding them for the illegal acts of their parents. Because even if the kids entered as a result of their illegal alien parents, it's the parents who are rewarded when their children are granted amnesty."

Gilchrist seems to agrees.

"These are hard decisions to make," he says. "Now, would I like to be on the receiving end of these laws as they are now? Probably not, but essentially it's not my problem. It's the problem of those who broke the law to deal with."

Erika Solis appreciates the counterarguments. In fact, she says it surprises many to hear that she agrees with a number of points made by those in the anti-­immigration camp.

"I consider myself a smart person and I understand both sides of the immigration problem and the fact that the border needs to be secure," she says. "And I understand the fear of people saying, 'All these immigrants are coming and they don't want to assimilate.' I think a lot of their fear comes from the fear of a general amnesty, which I do think encourages immigration. I think more effort should be made toward border control because coming here in such large numbers does put a stress on everybody.

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