Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DREAM Act: Humanizing the Face of Immigration

Much has been said about immigration reform for the last 10 years, yet not enough has been done. While our borders are more secure than ever and illegal immigration is down almost 67% since 2000, the federal government has failed to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.

What is most concerning, though, is the fact that every year an estimated 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from American high schools. Most of them have aspirations of pursuing higher education, but only a few are able to enroll at a college or university; they are unable to receive financial aid because of their lack of legal status, and thus must fund their education almost completely out of pocket or with the help of private scholarships. Also, in the majority of cases, undocumented students are forced to pay out-of state tuition rates, despite having lived in a particular state since childhood.

But what does 65,000 undocumented high school graduates a year mean to Americans? It means that their investments are not yielding big returns. Children, whether legal or undocumented, are educated with tax dollars. For taxpayers to be footing the education bill of undocumented children—often from kindergarten all the way through high school—and then not allowing them to become productive, high-income earners and tax-paying individuals is rather nonsensical.

Let’s look at me as an example.

I am a very good candidate for The DREAM Act. I was brought to the United States as a child. I went on to graduate from high school with highest honors and amongst the top of my senior class. I graduated from college in the spring 2010 and I am now planning on attending graduate school later this year to pursue a Master’s degree. With the help of my family, private scholarships and working two low-paying jobs while attending school full-time, I afforded my undergraduate studies.

In addition, I have tried hard to make a positive contribution to society. I have volunteered and worked as an intern at many non-profit organizations, schools and churches in my community. Since I have always considered myself a social justice warrior interested in innovation, inspiration and talent development, I have devoted myself to giving back to my community and my country as much as I have been given.

What is also unique about my situation is that I am actually in the process of becoming a legal resident. My family and I filed an application with immigration authorities to “fix” our immigration status about 10 years ago. Despite my family’s application being approved in 2005, we still have to wait another four to five years before being granted full legal status.

All in all, my story helps to illustrate how the DREAM Act would allow talented, upstanding and outstanding youth like myself to contribute to the betterment of America by allowing us to give back our energy, talent and tax dollars to the country we call home. Similarly, my story also sheds light onto our broken immigration system and the need for immigration reform. Having people living afraid and in the shadows for up to 15 years of their life before being granted legal status, which under current immigration law undocumented immigrants cannot even apply for, is not a practical approach to solving our immigration problem.

Not passing the DREAM Act means outsourcing and deporting talented youth to other nations and wasting talent by only providing dead-end jobs to college educated people. This, in turn, hinders the long-term prosperity of the United States of America.

If you liked this blog, check out:
Dr. Paz Maya Oliverez's Blog: Tips for Undocumented Students: Networking for College & Career Success