America Must Understand and Pass the Dream Act

If America took the precious time to get to know and to understand the lives of millions of individuals directly impacted by the passage of the Dream Act, then this pending piece of legislation would overwhelming be approved by the US Congress. Earlier this week, Pres. Obama renewed his commitment to sign into law the Dream Act should it pass both the US House and Senate. A day later Dream Act bills were reintroduced into both chambers and currently has a growing bi-partisan support. In fact the Dream Act has historically been introduced into Congress since 2001 but consistently has been blocked by conservatives fearing national security and the encouragement of more illegal immigration. But in reality, the Dream Act would give a pathway to citizenship to young people bought into this country illegally as minors by their parents. So they’re already living and working in this country and pretty much spent the majority of their lives living in the US.

Over the past four years statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Center for Immigration Studies have estimated between 1.2 to 2.1 million young people could qualify for citizenship amnesty through the Dream Act which would require them to complete at least a two year college degree or two years towards a four year degree or enroll in military service for at least two years. And if passed, the Dream Act would only be enforced for those ages 18-29 at the time of its passage.

Sadly this would come too late for an untold number of older illegal immigrants brought to this country under the exact same circumstances. A few years ago I met someone in Los Angeles who for his safety I will call ‘ËœSam’. What I didn’t know about Sam at first was that he harbored a deep, dark secret that kept him from living a “normal” life. One day over a cup coffee, in a hushed paranoid tone, he confided in me that although he was in his mid-thirties and living in this country since he was a toddler, he still was not a US citizen.

Between a negligent attorney who did not properly file the necessary paperwork and the sudden death of his mother, Sam had to start the process of applying for citizenship all over again. He’s now being sponsored for permanent residency by his sister and her husband, both US citizens. This will then allow him to eventually apply for citizenship a few years later. So by the time Sam officially becomes a US citizen he will be over forty and would have lived over four decades of his life in a legal limbo.

So what has life been like for Sam and the millions of others in his situation? Well for starters with Sam living in the state of California he could not apply and legally receive a valid driver’s license, unlike in ten other US states which issued illegal immigrants a driver’s license prior to 2005.

This also means that Sam has been unable to fly on an airplane, vacation or travel extensively because he isn’t able to legally obtain a California state issued ID. Further, Sam hasn’t been able to complete college either because he didn’t qualify to receive federal financial aid such as the Pell Grant. Instead he’s had to pay 100% of his college expenses. And although he works fulltime, it is a low paying job with virtually no benefits. To make matters worse, other students in Sam’s situation have been accepted into some of the most academically competitive but extremely expensive colleges and universities. And heartbreakingly, they cannot attend because there are no financial assistance options available to them.

But fortunately, a few states have recognized the need to assist long-term immigrant students. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eleven states offer these students in-state tuition eligibility.

Simply put, millions of children and now a growing number of adults who were brought to this country against their will through illegal means are now paying the severe consequences of their parent’s actions. I’m sure that if Sam knew that as a young child he would have to duck and dodge for the rest of his life struggling to find work, receive earnings under the table, not be able to finish college, to drive a car, vacation or travel across the county without the assistance of someone who is a US citizen; I’m sure he would have objected to his mother’s well intentioned actions.

Finally, we must remember that these young people and adults did not break the law, their parent’s did. And we should not punish them based upon the illegal acts of their parents. Creating a path to citizenship for those impacted by the Dream Act is the decent, fair and more importantly the moral thing to do as a nation. We must provide this youth sub-population an opportunity to enroll in college and to take advantage of student loans, enroll in the military, work legally and build a prosperous career so that they too might be able to live the American dream. We must pass the Dream Act in 2011!