DREAMers: How Equal Opportunity For Immigrant Minors Could Actually Help Our Economy
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They are lost in limbo, their lives on hold, and their contributions sidelined while politicians debate their value to society even as they excel at school, volunteer in their communities and serve in the U.S. military.
Their crime is having been born on different soil – Mexico, the Philippines, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia – then brought to the United States by families who wanted only to give them a better life.
They are the DREAMers – an acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. For more than a decade, Dreamers and their allies have been pushing for a national Dream Act – a pathway to legal residency for children brought to the U.S. by undocumented parents.
While Democrats and Republicans debate social security and Medicare and cut or cap other vital programs to ease the $1.4 trillion federal deficit, Congress has overlooked a ready and willing source of revenue – the thousands of children of undocumented immigrants who, if allowed to follow their dreams, would help rebuild the economy by paying income tax and purchasing homes and cars.
About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to a study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that passage of the Dream Act would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next decade.
In a report last year, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at UCLA, wrote that the higher earning power of newly legalized workers, including the Dreamers, would translate to a tax revenue increase of $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion in the first three years.
Supporters call the national Dream Act “an investment, not an expense.”
In the decade since the Dream Act was first introduced in Congress, a patchwork of state laws has emerged. Some states allow undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition rates. On the other end of the spectrum, Alabama recently passed an immigration law that bans undocumented students from attending any state college.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that provides undocumented college students with access to private college funds. But it can't complete the dream by offering a chance for citizenship.
“If they don't have a future, why would they even finish high school? We want to let them know there is a way to pursue their dream,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), which pushed for passage of the state's Dream Act.
When Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signs his state's version of the Dream Act on August 1, it will be a major step forward in helping low-income, immigrant students realize their goal of going to college.
Until Congress passes a national dream act, many Dreamers like 22-year-old Cindy, whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 3, face an uncertain future.Cindy didn't know she was undocumented until she was in sixth grade. She wanted to attend a summer school computer class, but without a social security number, she couldn't apply. At that time, she didn't fully understand the implications, but by high school, her situation became clearer.
“I was thinking I was just like everyone else,” said Cindy, who doesn't want her last name used because of her family's resident status and so she can speak more freely.
Cindy's father works in the fast-food industry; her mother is a hotel housekeeper. They labor long hours but have never doubted they made the right decision by emigrating from Mexico to the U.S. They provided their family with a better life – and gave Cindy her passion to succeed.