DREAM and the University

by Maria Elena Salinas

Sofía Carranza did not know until she was in her senior year of high school that she was an undocumented immigrant. She was planning to study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) when she realized that, because of her immigration status, she was not eligible for the same scholarships other students were being offered. Her hope of continuing her education was dashed by the fact that she would have to pay the highest level of tuition, with no recourse to financial aid available to her.

Every year in the United States there are approximately 65,000 young people who are in the same situation as Sofía – they graduate from high school without the funds necessary to continue their studies, simply because their parents brought them to this country without legal documentation.

Their dream of enrolling in university studies has turned into a nightmare. Nonetheless, the so-called DREAM Act (named for the American Dream) could be the catalyst for converting their dreams of a better future into a reality.

This law intends to give undocumented students the opportunity to attend a university while only charging them the in-state tuition, and allowing students to apply for private scholarships, loans and other forms of assistance. The bill also proposes that, as long as students remain enrolled in the university, or if they decide to enter the military, they will be granted temporary residency for a period of six years, and permanent citizenship when they complete two years of study or military service. The proposed bill has been reintroduced in Congress, with strong bipartisan support from Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), and Lincoln Díaz-Balart (R-FL).

Speaking in support of students who might potentially benefit from this law, Congressman Díaz-Balart said, “Our students and our brave soldiers should not be punished for a decision that was made by their parents, in which they had no say. Unfortunately, as soon as these students graduate from secondary school, their educational aspirations are, to say the least, frustrated.”

Ten states in the union, including New York, have already adopted local laws similar to the DREAM Act that allow undocumented immigrants to pay college fees at public state universities at the same rate as legal residents. In New Jersey, Governor John S. Corzine has announced his interest in making universities more accessible to undocumented students in his state.

The DREAM Act could well be the first step toward the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Our current President was one of the principal sponsors of the bill in 2005, when he was a senator. By putting his political muscle behind the new bill, Obama could send a clear message to immigrant communities that he not only wants to make education one of his top priorities, but that he also intends to keep his promise to solve the immigration problem.

Students like Sofía feel the weight of not being able to achieve their American Dream because they cannot continue their higher education. Now, their future and the future of our country are in the hands and in the votes of those we elected to represent us.

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