Newsham: Make the DREAM a reality

The lame-duck session of Congress started Monday, and the months to follow will not be pretty. Thanks to the gridlock facing the Senate since early 2009, several important legislative issues — including unemployment benefits, Chinese currency manipulation, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Bush tax cuts — have been put off, and the Democratic Congress now has about a month to address them.

But there is one piece of legislation with bipartisan support that we cannot let fall through the cracks — one that can reduce spending, strengthen our economy, and provide new opportunities for 65,000 students per year.

The DREAM Act, a bill that has been on the table since 2001, is a measure designed to help undocumented students attain citizenship while they strive for the American dream. The DREAM Act will benefit young people who entered the United States before the age of 16, have lived here for at least five years and have earned a high school diploma or GED in that time frame by offering them the chance for permanent residence upon the completion of two years of college or military service. It also unambiguously allows states to provide in-state tuition to undocumented residents, a step many states have already taken.

Every year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools. Among them are athletes, prom queens and honor roll students; aspiring teachers, doctors and soldiers. But many have nowhere to go. The military is closed to undocumented immigrants, and due to a 1996 law, most states do not offer in-state tuition for them, meaning college can be cost-prohibitive. For those mere 5 to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates who do go to college, they must go through the process of getting a green card before they can put their skills to work in the American economy.

The DREAM Act is a simple fix. Though some may say the costs are too high, the DREAM Act isn’t a dead-weight expenditure; it’s an investment in America’s future, and the return is massive. According to a 1999 RAND study, a 30-year-old immigrant with a college degree will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost the government $3,900 less every year compared to a high school dropout — a fate all too common among undocumented students — in similar circumstances. Smart workers strengthen the American economy, and we want them to be a part of it.

The 10 states that have passed DREAM-Act-like legislation of their own, providing in-state tuition to undocumented residents, have shown no massive influx of undocumented immigrants, nor have they been hit with the massive costs that opponents of the bill have predicted. Combined with the federal DREAM Act, state laws like these could open doors for tens of thousands of students every year.

This past weekend, the Yale College Democrats and MEChA de Yale sponsored the Connecticut DREAM Summit, an event organized with the help of Lorella Praeli, an undocumented student at Quinnipiac University who came to the United States at age 11 for medical care, and two recent college graduates, Carolina and Camila Bortolleto, who are unable to put their skills to work as a result of their status. I had the opportunity to meet a resident who was frustrated at the requirement of citizenship for many college scholarships. I heard from an undocumented law student who had received job offers from as far away as China, yet was frustrated that he was still unable to work in the United States, the place he calls home. I met an undocumented student who ranked fifth in her high school class, only to be misled by her guidance counselor that applying to college would result in the deportation of her family. For their sake and the sake of thousands of young people just like them, we have to end this wave of fear and crushed hopes, and passing the DREAM Act can bring us so much closer.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have both promised to raise the DREAM Act during the lame-duck session, but with so much else on the agenda, it may be crowded out. For the sake of 65,000 young minds per year — artists in the making, future teachers, engineers and contributors to a stronger America — we cannot let this happen. Nine years of waiting is long enough. Make time this week to call Reid and Pelosi and remind them to keep their promises, and call your own senators and congressmen to let them know: it’s time to stop deferring the dream.

Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.

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