It is estimated that every year, 65,000 students graduate from high school without legal immigration status. Of these, many were brought to the United States as children, and even live their lives as Americans without any knowledge of their own immigration status, only to find out when they apply to college and ask their parents about their social security number, when they graduate from high school and look for employment, or, as in the case of nursing student Steve Li, when they are suddenly arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
These students, who did not ask to grow up in the United States and are undocumented, are American in all but name. Studies show that the majority of these undocumented college students are overachievers. Many are student senators, class presidents, valedictorians, team captains and club officers at schools, colleges and universities. Take, for example, Pedro Ramirez, the student body president at Cal State Fresno. Or Maria Duque, student body vice president at Fullerton College, or Eric Balderas, a Harvard student who wants to find a cure for cancer. Or David Cho, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who is double majoring in International Economics and Korean, maintains a 3.6 GPA, and is the Drum Major of the UCLA Marching band. His dream is to serve in the United States Air Force after graduating. Yet David, and thousands of other students – our “best and brightest,” will not be able to contribute to our economy or our society because they do not have a path to legal status.
A common sentiment that students such as David face is the ignorant and misguided idea that they should “wait in line like everyone else”—for these students there currently is no such line. They are, instead, stuck on a road with nowhere to go. They are living in the United States, culturally American, and have earned or are earning college, or even advanced degrees. Yet, upon graduation, they are unable to work legally, unable to provide the United States with economic benefits that they are so capable of providing, not only because they have no legal status, but also because they do not have any way of obtaining it. The ignorance behind the idea that these students should “wait in line” is extremely dangerous because it fails to realize not only the lack of existence of such a line, but also our responsibility to do our part to help create a “path to citizenship” for these talented individuals.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would provide a path to legal status for qualifying individuals under the age of 30, who arrived before the age of 16, resided in the U.S. for at least five years, graduated from high school and completed two years of college or honorable military service. They would be subject to background checks and must not have a criminal record. The DREAM Act has been introduced yearly since 2001, and has enjoyed bipartisan support, as well as support from the U.S. Military. Yet, each year, it fails to muster enough support to pass. There is a renewed sense of urgency because it is unlikely to pass when the newly Republican controlled Congress returns to Washington D.C. in January. The significance of the timing is further demonstrated by the scores of undocumented students who in recent weeks have literally “come out” of “hiding” to disclose their illegal immigration status, to bring attention and support to this heart-wrenching issue.
Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid has promised a vote on the DREAM Act in the lame duck session of Congress. Late Tuesday night (November 30, 2010), Senator Reid filed a new version of the DREAM Act (S. 3992) with the aim of attracting broader support to get the 60 votes that are required to pass the Senate. With the filing of this new bill, the vote on DREAM will likely be delayed this week. It could however come up for a vote as early as Monday, December 6th, 2010. Every year, the DREAM Act gets closer and closer to passing, largely due to grassroots efforts and urging from thousands of individuals across the nation.
Please show your support for the DREAM Act! It’s more important than ever that you take action TODAY by writing and calling your member of Congress, through AILA’s Legislative Action Center, and urging them to support this common-sense and urgently needed immigration measure. You can also show your support and get involved through NAFSA’s call to action.
The United States simply cannot afford to hold these talented students hostage within our broken immigration system any longer. Contact your Representatives today and urge them to do the right thing for our future leaders of America.