Just recently, popular photoblog Humans of New York (HoNY) featured a picture of a young woman in graduation garb, with the caption “I’m an illegal immigrant”. The photo quickly became viral, with lots of people saying that the young woman has achieved what many natural-born Americans haven’t: that is, going to college and earning a degree.
The HoNY photo is just one of the many examples that show that getting an education is difficult for most (if not all) illegal immigrants and that society doesn’t really expect them to graduate and succeed. Fortunately, this can be amended with the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (aka DREAM) Act. The act grants conditional residential status to young illegal immigrants who:
- Can prove that they entered the United States before they turned 16 years old and that they’ve been living in the country continuously for at least five years.
- Have graduated from a U.S. high school or passed the General Educational Development (GED) tests.
- Have not been involved in any criminal activity and can pass criminal background checks and reviews.
- Have good moral character.
Once undocumented immigrants obtain conditional residential status and are able to hold it for six years, they can apply for permanent residency as long as they can fulfill the following criteria:
- They must have graduated from a community college, completed at least two years in college towards a bachelor’s degree, or served at least two years in the U.S. Military.
- They continue to possess good moral character.
- They haven’t been involved in any criminal activity and can pass another set of background checks.
Though it’s still a legislative proposal and hasn’t yet been passed (it was introduced in the senate on August 2001 and has been reintroduced several times over the years), the DREAM Act has gained numerous proponents. This comes from the fact that it provides support to young illegal immigrants who strive to finish high school and college and contribute to the betterment of the American society. However, it has also attracted many opponents who believe that the act provides amnesty to illegal immigrants.
List of Pros of the DREAM Act
1. Help undocumented youth achieve their dreams.
According to research, approximately 65,000 undocumented teens who have resided in the U.S. for five years or more graduate from high school annually. Unfortunately, not all of them make it to college because of several factors. For one thing, illegal immigrants don’t have access to Pell Grants and other federal financial programs for students, making it more difficult for them to fund their education. Since they’re excluded from the legal workforce, many also think that earning a bachelor’s degree is useless and therefore get discouraged from obtaining one. As a result, less than 6,500 undocumented teens proceed to college every year.
The DREAM Act aims to change these by encouraging young illegal immigrants to study hard and aim to graduate from college. Since they know their hard work can bring them closer to a successful career and to permanent residency, they have a reason to study well and strive to get their degree.
2. Boost local and national economies.
When undocumented people obtain their graduate degree, they have higher chances of getting good-paying jobs and earning a decent salary. These, in turn, give them a bigger spending power and allow them to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards and even invest in stocks and bonds. As a result, they won’t only make their lives better but they’ll also help in boosting the economy of their town/city and state as well as of the entire United States.
3. Improve the American society as a whole.
Numerous studies have proven that higher educational attainment can lead to lower crime rates. With this in mind, it’s easy to say that encouraging undocumented children to complete their high school and college education can lead to a more peaceful and successful country with higher productivity levels and low poverty and crime rates.
4. Increase military recruitment ratings.
The Department of Defense has been one of the proponents of the DREAM Act mainly because it encourages military recruitment among young people. This, in turn, allows the U.S. military to expand its recruiting pool and have access to undocumented young adults who want to become American soldiers and have the right education, fitness, aptitude and values.
List of Cons of the DREAM Act
1. Shield gang members from deportation.
According to studies done by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 4,370 gangsters were arrested in 2010. Out of this number, more than 1,300 of them were under 30 years old and had not committed serious crimes. These include those who belonged to gangs that were composed mainly of Central and South American immigrants as well as gangs that were associated with Mexican drug cartels. Because of these, ICE officials fear that the DREAM Act will allow gang members to become conditional and ultimately permanent residents, making them harder to arrest and deport.
2. Encourage chain migration as well as unauthorized migration.
Many opponents of the DREAM Act believe that the promise of becoming conditional and permanent residents in the future is too tempting to foreigners, especially those who live in impoverished countries with economic and socio-political strife. As such, it will open the United States’ doors to would-be illegal immigrants and encourage them to sneak into the country.
However, proponents argue that this cannot really happen since the act only applies to those who were brought to the U.S. as children and have lived here for most of their lives. Even if DREAM Act applicants can proceed to becoming permanent residents, they still have to provide numerous documents, fulfill rigorous requirements and wait for years before they can petition for their parents or siblings.
3. Cause discontent among those who don’t support the act.
The DREAM Act might promote feel-good feelings in its proponents, but it can have an opposite effects on those who oppose the legislation. For one thing, it can stir animosity in those who believe that illegal immigrants are “stealing” jobs and educational opportunities from Americans. This, in turn, can cause undocumented young people to become even more discriminated in school, at work and in other places.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.