The Federal DREAM Act Is Crucial for Our Future

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By Viridiana Rodriguez, Cynthia Perez, Jennifer Macias & Belinda Guzman (USC grad students)

Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students who have lived in the United States for five years or longer graduate from high school with limited education and employment opportunities to support themselves in this country. With high hopes of one day attending college and obtaining a degree to legally work as professionals, these students become discouraged because opportunities are limited when born outside of the United States and not lawful permanent residents. There's a whole generation of students who want to succeed, but are left with few options after high school because of their status.  

The federal DREAM Act bill addresses immigration status barriers associated with undocumented students and will allow undocumented students to attend college, join the military, and legally work in the United States. These students must meet extensive requirements, which include applying for conditional permanent resident status if they came to the United States prior to the age of 15. Undocumented students must live in the United States for at least five years before passage of the bill and graduate from a United States high school. Students must demonstrate good moral character, such as not having committed any crimes, and complete a two-year college program or military service within six years to qualify for conditional permanent resident status. After meeting these requirements, students will submit proof of documentation showing that they have met these requirements along with the removal of conditional status application. If passed, the federal DREAM Act will make is possible for documented students to become lawful permanent residents

With little incentive to graduate from high school, undocumented students experience higher drop-out rates and the potential to become involved in gangs and illegal activities. The California DREAM Act and Federal DREAM Act were introduced in order to provide undocumented youth with the opportunity to achieve their academic goals by enabling them to be eligible for Cal Grant funds and other state financial aid.

Although eligible DREAMers will be able to obtain economic resources to assist with college under the California DREAM Act, they will still remain unauthorized to work after graduating with a BA or post-BA degree. The state of California will not benefit from taxes on the salaries of the potentially higher-earning college graduates. Providing financial aid to DREAMers is a first step in the right direction, but the next step should be to address the most significant issue undocumented students face: the absence of pathways to legalized status or work authorization. 

The passage of the Federal DREAM Act provides an opportunity for undocumented students to achieve their academic dreams by reducing drop-out rates and creating incentives for undocumented students to remain in school until graduation. The federal DREAM Act would make these children lawfully eligible to work and help fill positions such as teachers, nurses, and service employees—positions that have long been in demand in the United States.

Currently, there are few resources available for immigrants who desire to continue pursuing a higher education after graduating from high school. Work visas are hard to come by and traditional pathways to citizenship are long and expensive. How can these students get the financial means to pay the permanent residency fees if they are not allowed to legally work in the United States? 

Millions of immigrants in the U.S. could be increasing tax revenues at local, state, and federal levels, but since undocumented students can't legally work in the U.S., the increase of tax revenue at all levels can't be accomplished. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which foresees the federal DREAM Act, believes passing the bill could cut the federal deficit from $1.4 billion and increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years.

Currently, there is no federal bill that offers any of the resources that could compare to what is available in the federal DREAM Act. Supporting the dreams of undocumented students is not only a moral decision but a wise economic investment for the United States. By not passing the federal DREAM Act, the U.S. is losing a generation of potential college educated individuals.

Get Involved with Voto Latino if you believe in the federal passage of the Dream Act. 

Viridiana Rodriguez, Belinda Guzman, Cynthia Perez, and Jennifer Macias are graduate students at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.They have a strong passion for helping others in need, especially the immigrant population, and hope to bring awareness to the Federal Dream Act and other social issues affecting immigrants. This policy statement was written for their Social Work 535: Social Welfare policy class. 

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