Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The right to dream

ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Laura RĂ³tolo wrote the following guest blog.

Imagine this: your parents bring you to the United States as a small child, you grow up with American schoolmates, speaking English and attending American schools. You graduate high school at the top of your class. You dream about being a doctor, a journalist or an educator, and giving back to your community. But when you go to apply for college, you realize that your dream will never come true because you don't have legal immigration status in the United States.

This is the scenario for about 65,000 young, talented students who have made the U.S. their home. They've done everything that is asked of children: study hard, work hard, be good, and your dreams will come true. Yet, when it is time for them to seek higher education, they are smeared with an inherited title--illegal immigrant--and doors shut in their faces.

On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Senate will vote on a defense appropriations bill. Attached to that bill as an amendment will be the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S. 729), something that has been bouncing around in Congress for about 10 years, and which is desperately needed by students in Massachusetts and around the country.

The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that would give hard-working undocumented immigrant students who moved to the United States before the age of 16 the opportunity to enroll in an institution of higher education or enlist in the U.S. military. It would also provide a conditional path to citizenship if students meet strict requirements, such as graduating from a U.S. high school and obeying the law. And the bill would get rid of penalties for states that grant in-state tuition to their students.

Undocumented students who stand to benefit from DREAM are, by and large, talented high achievers. They grew up in the U.S. and overcame the odds to graduate from high school and secure admission to a public university. However, for most of these high school graduates, the door to higher education remains closed.

Here at home, lawmakers have proposed a bill to address this problem for many years. It would allow undocumented students who reside in Massachusetts to pay the same in-state tuition rates as their classmates at Massachusetts public colleges. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says that the bill would generate $2.5 million in new revenue for the Commonwealth--an amount that is sorely needed in these times of budgetary crisis.

And beyond the issue of revenue, why wouldn't we want to keep these young people and their talents in our commonwealth, or at least our country? Denying them the right to continue their schooling only ensures that their education will end before they have a chance to learn valuable skills, or that they will simply leave and some other country will benefit from those teachers, innovators, doctors, etc.

Senator John Kerry has been a strong supporter of the DREAM Act since its original introduction in the Senate. Senator Scott Brown has not taken an official public stance on it.

As with most immigration-related bills, advocacy groups are reporting that anti-immigration calls to senators are drowning out support by 10 calls to 1.

This is why I am urging everybody to pick up the phone and call Sen. Brown now to urge him to support the DREAM Act. His number is (617) 565-3170. Tell him that it doesn't make sense to punish the children of undocumented immigrants--and it doesn't make sense to deny our country and commonwealth the benefits that come from allowing these students to maximize their potential.

It's the right thing to do for our students and it's the right thing to do for our state. Kids who came to the U.S. illegally because of a choice their parents made should not be punished. Students who want to study hard and contribute to our society should be welcomed, not excluded.

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