Menus Subscribe Search

Rude Awakening for the DREAM Act

• September 24, 2010 • 12:08 PM

The proposed DREAM Act’s effort to allow the foreign-born children of parents who entered the U.S. illegally fights the headwinds of the immigration debate.

Arizona became the political epicenter of the immigration debate this year after passing the country’s toughest crackdown on illegal aliens. Amid the fallout, national and international politicians denounced local officials. Sports leagues, whole cities and civil rights groups threatened boycotts. And the U.S. Department of Justice settled in to sue.

Less well known is that one bastion of the now infamous Southwestern state — its largest public university — has been leading the call for a new national policy in favor of some undocumented immigrants: children, brought here unwittingly by their parents, who often don’t discover they’re illegal until it comes time to apply for college. (Documented immigrants, those whose parents became citizens but they for some reason didn’t, need not apply.)

“It’s appalling that we have allowed the mistreatment of young people to go on in the United States for political gain,” Arizona State University President Michael Crow said this week on a conference call organized by backers of a bill that would grant such students new legal status. “These children are innocent, these children are attempting to move forward with their lives. We’re taking time to pass immigration reform — obviously we need immigration reform — but these children shouldn’t have to suffer while we’re in the process of reshaping our national immigration policy.”

The potential bill, called the DREAM Act, has been criticized as a form of youth amnesty. But it’s also drawn unlikely allies in education advocates, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and military brass like retired Gen. Colin Powell. Both interests want to create a pathway to conditional legal residency for young people whom they say had no control over the circumstances that brought them here.

For the military, these immigrants — who are culturally American, if not American on paper — represent an untapped well of recruits who could bolster the Armed Forces in an era of strained commitment. For four-year universities and community colleges, they represent a domestic source of academic talent at a time when schools like ASU must search overseas for high achievers.
[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBYMiller-McCune

[/class]
The bill would offer six years of conditional legal residency to students to attend college or enlist in the military. Ultimately, they could apply for U.S. citizenship. The program would be open only to children who entered the country before age 16, who have lived here continuously for at least five years before the bill’s enactment, who have “good moral character,” and who graduate from a U.S. high school (or obtain a GED) while qualifying for college or military service.

Currently, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate high school at this crossroads every year with few options ahead of them. As of right now, they are not eligible to join the military, and they face myriad college admissions requirements in different states.

One of the biggest obstacles is not enrolling in school, but paying for it. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal student loans (and they lack the Social Security numbers necessary to open the bank accounts to establish the credit to apply for private loans). Only 10 states grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who graduate from state high schools, and those states are penalized by a 1996 law requiring any state that gives in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants to also give those same benefits to U.S. citizens regardless of residency.

Without student loan aid and in-state rates, undocumented students cannot legally work to pay for college. And in the event they are able to complete a degree, graduates cannot legally find jobs to use them.

Students who would benefit from the new law also cite a significant obstacle that speaks to more than logistics.

“There’s always the fear of, ‘What if an administrator within the school decides to call DHS?’ Applications are supposed to be private, but different things happen,” said Tolu Olubunmi, an undocumented immigrant who graduated college in 2002. “There is always that fear, and that goes with applying for college, and it goes with just existing.”

In addition to granting these students legal status, the DREAM Act would let states decide whether or not to offer them in-state tuition. It would also make immigrants eligible for student loans and work-study programs but not federal grant aid.

So far, the mechanics of passing it have proved even tougher than crafting its complex criteria. Politicians of both parties have supported the concept. But when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to tack the bill this week onto the defense authorization (along with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), many Republicans balked on procedural grounds.

The bill’s advocates hope they can make headway with the argument that this idea actually has nothing to do with all those other contentious issues evoked by Arizona’s immigration law.

“This is not actually about immigration,” Crow insisted. “This is about talent acquisition, this is about fairness, and this is about moving talent forward into the workplace.”

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 2 • 9:12 AM

Conference Call: The Graphic Novel


September 2 • 8:00 AM

Why We’re Not Holding State Legislators Accountable

The way we vote means that the political fortunes of state legislators hinge on events outside of their state and their control.


September 2 • 7:00 AM

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.


September 2 • 6:00 AM

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

For millions of Christians, biblical counselors have replaced psychologists. Some think it’s time to reverse course.


September 2 • 5:12 AM

No Innovation Without Migration

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.


September 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Middle School Doesn’t Have to Suck

Some people suspect the troubles of middle school are a matter of age. Middle schoolers, they think, are simply too moody, pimply, and cliquish to be easily educable. But these five studies might convince you otherwise.


September 2 • 3:13 AM

Coming Soon: When Robots Lie


September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.