By Susana Sánchez, Community Mobilization Intern
“We, who came to this country, came in search of better opportunities and in search of our dreams. We didn’t come here to be served but to contribute to our communities. Through the Dream Act we ask for the opportunity to serve our communities and contribute to this nation,” says Rosa Hernandez from California.
Like Rosa, there is a large group of young Latinos who came to the United States at a very young age. They have grown up, attended school, sung the U.S. anthem, and felt part of the USA as everyone else raised here. Each year 65,000 undocumented students are estimated to graduate from high school. It is at that moment when many of them realize they are undocumented and therefore cannot obtain a driver’s license, get financial aid to attend college, or legally apply for a job. It is devastating news for the many talented and highly motivated students that just want to better themselves, their families and their communities by getting an education.
The DREAM Act, a bill introduced in the senate by Senator Richard Durbin and in the House by Congressman Howard Barman, would grant conditional legal status for six years to undocumented youth who:
- came before turning 16;
- graduate from high school or get a GED;
- have continuously lived in the country for more than five years;
- And are younger than 35.
Upon earning an associate’s degree, or completion of at least two years toward a bachelor’s degree or after serving two years of military service, those who have demonstrated “good moral character” (exact wording from bill) would be eligible to apply (after six years of being a conditional legal resident) for permanent legal residence.
Since 2001, the bill has spurred hope and organizing from students. After 9 years, the movement has only become stronger. The DREAMers, as they call themselves, have launched sit-ins, hunger strikes, mass marches and other acts of civil disobedience aimed to push Senators to pass the bill this year. Some DREAMers have even risked deportation after being arrested at Senator John McCain’s offices.
Most of these students have put faith, tireless efforts and all their hope in the bill, but even if signed into law the dream may not become a reality for many. The Immigration Policy Institute recently published DREAM vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries raising questions about the number of students who would actually benefit from the potential law.
According to this report, there are currently 2.1 million undocumented immigrant students, 84 % of them from Latin American countries that would meet the requirements for conditional legalization under the DREAM Act. However, the study “project[s] that approximately 38 percent— or 825,000— of the potential beneficiaries would achieve lawful permanent residence status under the legislation.”
The policy analysts based their projection on socio-economic factors such as socioeconomic status, English proficiency, presence of dependent children, employment status, and Latino high school graduation rates. A key point in the analysis is that 47% of those ages 18-34 with only a high school degree or GED diploma are from households with incomes less than 200% of the poverty level. It poses a significant challenge to paying tuition and related fees ranging from $14,000 for community colleges to $40,000 for private colleges.
On DREAMACT.com, Jorge A. Hernandez says:
I support this law because it will help several great student[s] that cannot go further in their education due to the lack of financial aid, and can be a great co[n]tribution to this country.
As Hernandez, many DREAMers are under the impression that they would become eligible for financial aid if Congress approves the DREAM Act. Nonetheless, the bill clearly excludes students with conditional legal status and permanent residents from receiving Pell Grants, the most crucial financial assistance for low-income students, which is highlighted in the report.
The study also “makes the generous assumption” that only 5% of those aged 18-34 high with only a high school degree or GED diploma would take the military route to get permanent legal residence.
In contrast, a recent documentary featured in Democracy Now! Yo Soy el Army, started a discussion on the military portion of the bill. Marco Amador, the media activist behind the documentary says the film intended to ask organizations supporting the DREAM Act to “fully understand the implications of accepting the militarization of the immigrant rights movement.”
In the film, Jorge Mariscal, a Vietnam veteran and professor of Chicano studies at the University of California in San Diego says:
The dream, really, of citizenship is the main thing that people—that recruiters offer. Related to that is something called the DREAM Act. Now, the DREAM Act would actually take noncitizen youths, who have been raised here, who were brought here as children, are bilingual, bicultural, fluent in English, and graduated from high school, that would allow them to serve in the military in exchange for temporary permanent residency… What one has to realize about the DREAM Act is that the military option wasn’t attached. The military option was there at the beginning. The Pentagon helped write the DREAM Act. That’s what people have to realize.
The DREAM Act may certainly provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented students. Nevertheless, I am worried that many think the bill would become a panacea for the millions of undocumented Latino students. As an immigrant, I am close to many talented Latino youth who really believe the DREAM Act would make the American Dream a reality, but many are not fully informed of what to expect from the bill, so they can anticipate the challenges and compromises they would have to make. It is an imperative as Latinos/as to comprehend the implications of laws that specifically target our community. We must better guide our organizing and advocacy efforts and make sure that new laws protect our community from discriminatory policies and do not perpetuate institutionalized discrimination.
By Susana Sánchez, Community Mobilization Intern, supported by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program.