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A DREAM Deferred

Adam Newman | Wednesday, January 19, 2011

If there was ever a heartfelt piece of legislation, it’s the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is a measure that will greatly reform America’s dysfunctional immigration system in the short term by ensuring hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented students a piece of the American dream.

America’s immigration policies create many barriers to success for the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year. While it is not illegal for them to attend college, it is extremely difficult because undocumented students do not qualify for federal aid, state aid or in-state tuition. Moreover, once these immigrants graduate from college, it is extremely hard to find work because employers require numerous legal documents that undocumented aliens cannot legally provide. Even though these students call America home and could be of great benefit to America, our immigration policies do not allow them to meet their full potential.

The DREAM Act works to change this by creating a three-requirement road to legalization for undocumented students. First, the undocumented student must have come to America before the age of 15, be under the age of 30 at the time of the bill’s passage, and have lived in America for at least five consecutive years. Second, the undocumented student must either graduate from high school, earn a GED or be accepted to college. Those who meet the first two requirements would qualify for a 10-year temporary legal status whereupon they would be able to legally work, drive and obtain both federal work study and student loans. Third, those with the temporary legal status must serve in the military or attend college for at least two years. Upon completion of the third requirement, those with the temporary legal status can apply for “legal permanent status.”

Even though hundreds of thousands of undocumented students will become eligible for student loans and other benefits, the DREAM Act will not add to the national debt. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that implementing the DREAM Act would actually reduce the national debt by $2.2 billion over 10 years, mostly from an increase in tax revenues from otherwise undocumented workers reporting their incomes legally.

The DREAM Act has received immense support from the business community. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote a letter in support of the DREAM Act that was co-signed by various CEOs, Presidents and Chairmen of major companies including: American Express, J.P Morgan, Pfizer, Deutsche Bank, Macy’s and Morgan Stanley. Even Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of NewsCorp, the parent company of right-leaning Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, co-signed the letter.

Recently, there was a major effort to pass the DREAM Act. The bill passed in the House, but Republicans used the filibuster to hold up the DREAM Act in the Senate. Since the DREAM Act could not attain the 60 votes required to end the filibuster (55 senators voted for the DREAM Act while 41 voted against it), the measure died in the Senate. Since the Republicans now have a majority in the House and more Senate seats, the DREAM Act has almost no chance of passage for the foreseeable future. It may be another decade before the DREAM Act becomes reality.

Many young immigrants who would be affected by the DREAM Act’s passage, (nicknamed “DREAMers”) and those who supported the measure eagerly watched C-SPAN during the Senate vote. Many were in tears as they saw a piece of legislation that meant so much to them lose by so little. As an American citizen, this was heartbreaking to witness.

While researching for this op-ed, I read the stories of many DREAMers. One is an undocumented student from Mexico named Eric Balderas who was brought to America as a young child. He studies biology at Harvard and wants to become a cancer researcher. Recently, Eric was almost deported due to his illegal status. He was granted a temporary stay due to his story’s national publicity. Another is Deivid Ribeirdo, who was brought to America illegally from Brazil at age seven. Deivid wants to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and become a college physics professor. However, due to his illegal status, he cannot receive aid. Both of these students would immensely benefit from the DREAM Act, and as a result directly benefit the country they call home: America.

There are hundreds of thousands of other DREAMers who have stories similar to Eric’s and Deivid’s; all you have to do is change the name, home country and how they want to serve America. Reading about these young people has shown me that even as undocumented immigrants face challenges, America will always be their home, even if 41 senators don’t want it to be.

Adam Newman is a sophomore majoring in finance. He can be contacted at anewman3@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.