If you haven’t thought about immigration in a while, I don’t blame you.
Beyond sporadic mention of the “immigrant invasion” or yet another diatribe about “those illegal immigrants taking our jobs and sapping our resources!” the topic of immigration seems to have receded to the back of the American consciousness, even as it continues to dominate and define the experiences of so many living in the U.S.
But this silence is unsurprising: Nobody talks about immigration anymore because immigration reform in this country is going nowhere.
In Washington, the discussion about immigration reform has centered on the idea of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. When CIR was first introduced in 2006, the general consensus was that the immigration system was so tragically flawed that reform needed to come in one big sweep. Piecemeal legislation was out of the question, and all issues even remotely related to immigration were relegated to CIR.
Unsurprisingly, CIR has since come to a standstill. With so many different interest groups lobbying for this issue or that, politicians seem to have forgotten that the policies we create or don’t create have serious repercussions for the millions of people whose lack of a nine-digit number makes them casual targets for deportation and exploitation. For these individuals and their communities, immigration reform can no longer be pushed aside because the political climate is such that it is not “politically viable” for pundits to dirty their hands with the topic.
But, unfortunately, that’s what we’ve come to, and it is our youth who suffer the most. Each year, against the odds, over 50,000 undocumented students graduate from high school only to find themselves facing an uncertain future. Students who go on to higher education often struggle for years to afford the debilitating cost of out-of-state tuition on an undocumented worker’s budget. And even if they manage to graduate, they face a future no less certain than if they had never gone to college at all.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act seeks to change this reality. The bill, reintroduced last March, would grant six years of conditional residency to the thousands of students who became “undocumented” before they turned 16, the majority of whom entered the U.S. through no choice of their own and who have known no life outside of their American communities. It would affect only individuals who could prove residency in the U.S. for at least five continuous years prior to the bill’s enactment, have demonstrated “good moral character” and successfully graduated from a U.S. high school. The temporary residency would be conditional: students would be expected to complete at least two years of courses toward a bachelor’s degree or two years of military service.
The DREAM Act has little to do with immigration; five year old children rarely make the conscious decision to leave their homes for a foreign country. It does not deal with incoming immigrants, and it would do nothing to alter U.S. immigration policy. As such, the DREAM Act has no place in CIR. If we are serious about putting an end to our country’s senseless penalizing of its most talented youth and granting them the opportunity they deserve to contribute to society, then we need to work toward striking it from CIR and getting it to Washington as a standalone bill.
This is not a distant conversation. It is entirely possible that the students affected by the current inaction may very well be your best friends. They may not have told you that after graduating from Yale, their best chance for making a living may take the form of factory work or struggling for survival after deportation to a country they hardly know. It is with these students in mind that MEChA de Yale has organized around the DREAM Act. In turn, administrators have responded. The Presidents of Harvard, Brown and University of Pennsylvania have publicly endorsed the DREAM Act, while President Levin and Princeton President Shirley Tilghman have also expressed their support in varying degrees. While we still hope President Levin will come out publicly in support of his undocumented students, we are now focusing our efforts on channeling the energy and spirit of social justice on the Yale campus.
As students at Yale, we have tremendous power to change the way the DREAM Act debate is played out in Washington. Through Yalies for a DREAM, we hope to come together over the basic human right to education that the DREAM Act represents to so many thousands of students.
Elizabeth González is a junior in Trumbull College, a moderator of MEChA de Yale and a founding member of Yalies for a DREAM.