Millions of young people nationwide are currently in the same stressful and painful predicament. Brought to the United States as children, they attend public schools, become fluent in English, make friends, excel alongside their classmates, and plan to live the American Dream.
But after graduating from high school, their lives screech to a halt. Without citizenship papers or social security numbers, they are ineligible for college loans. Unable to afford non-resident tuition rates, higher education slips out of reach. It is illegal for companies to hire them, and they live under the constant threat of deportation.
These are the youngsters the DREAM Act was designed to help. First introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin in 2001, the proposed legislation would give undocumented students a path to legal residency.
To be eligible, students must arrive in the U.S. prior to age 16, live here for at least five years, maintain “good moral character,” earn a U.S. high school diploma, and spend two years in college or the military.
The controversial bill has been debated in Congress for years, but never passed. Recently, several signs suggest that support for the DREAM Act is gaining momentum.
Here are four reasons DREAMers should keep the faith:
1. RHEE-SPECT: Earlier this month, former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee publicly expressed her support for the DREAM Act.
Rhee is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a grassroots movement devoted to mobilizing Americans around school reform. With its growing coffers and nationwide membership, StudentsFirst is a force to be reckoned with. Backing legislative changes in numerous states, the one-year-old organization already has several impressive victories under its belt.
2. 12 STATES AND COUNTING: While waiting for the federal government to pass the DREAM Act, 12 states took matters into their own hands by throwing undocumented students a legislative lifeline.
For instance, according to a new law in Maryland, students who attend a Maryland high school for at least three years, earn a diploma, prove that their parents pay taxes, and pay out-of-state tuition at a community college for two years, become eligible to pay in-state tuition at four-year public universities.
A new Connecticut law allows undocumented students who attend four years of high school in Connecticut, and file a statement promising to apply for legal residency in the future, to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Connecticut’s public universities.
3. THE DUNCAN EFFECT: On June 28, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified at the first-ever Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the DREAM Act. Duncan emphasized the positive impact these ambitious youngsters can have on the national economy if given the right to fully participate.
The day before the hearing, Duncan was joined by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ret. Lt. Col. Margaret Stock on a conference call with reporters. All three called for bipartisan support of the bill.
4. COMING OUT PARTY: On June 26, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a story he wrote for The New York Times Magazine.
Vargas’ moving account of the obstacles he faced throughout his life helped raise awareness for the plight of undocumented youth. He has since made several high-profile public appearances, including being a guest on The Colbert Report.
Vargas founded the DefineAmerican campaign to expand and deepen the national immigration conversation.