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Lecia Imbery's picture

Last week, five cap-and-gown clad students three of whom were illegal immigrants risked arrest and deportation to hold a sit-in in Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) Tucson office. Earlier in the month, four high-ranking college students from Florida only one of whom has been able to obtain legal residency completed their four-month, 1,500-mile trek from Miami to Washington, their self-proclaimed Trail of Dreams.

What is the dream these students are after? What is important enough to make them risk arrest and deportation from the only country most of them know? It’s not fame or fortune they seek, but simply the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Their actions were meant to raise awareness and push for passage of the Dream Act (H.R. 1751/S. 729), legislation that would allow undocumented students who were raised in the United States and have graduated from American high schools the chance to go to college, contribute to the nation’s economy, and start on their path to citizenship.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants wishing to attend college are unable to access state financial aid in most states, are ineligible for federal student loans, and are unable to legally work to pay for tuition and the other costs associated with college. It goes without saying that without the funds to pay for higher education, their hands are tied.

Under the Dream Act, undocumented students who entered the United States before they were 16 and have lived here for at least five years could gain permanent legal status and eventually citizenship if they attend college or join the military for at least two years and display good moral character. States would be allowed to offer these students in-state tuition, and the students could receive federal loans upon adjustment of their legal status. The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 65,000 immigrants annually who were brought to this country as young children and essentially know no other home.

The Dream Act benefits not only these students, but our nation as well. On average, a worker’s earnings double with a college degree compared to a high school degree. Increased education and earnings lead to increased tax revenue, decreased reliance on public assistance programs, lower unemployment rates, and increased voting, volunteering, and other civic activities. A well-educated society is a stronger society.

Without the Dream Act, hard-working students who consider the United States their home and had no say in the decision to come here in the first place will continue to be punished, and the cycle of poverty will continue to be propagated by condemning these students to low-wage jobs. Is this the American dream we idealize and on which our country was founded? I think not.

Cross posted from the AAUW blog

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