Last month, Democratic Senators re-introduced the decade-old DREAM Act, a legislation that would offer legal status to eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as minors. The decade-old bill narrowly failed to overcome a filibuster last December, after passing the House of Representatives – the furthest the bill has ever reached. The political prospects of its passage this time around are dim unless it is a bipartisan effort. Nevertheless, the urgency and needs of thousands of students loom larger than ever.
This population of DREAMers, which argues many advocates, educators and businesspeople, is the most deserving group of a pathway toward citizenship and a chance to contribute to a country they already belong to.
Take the story of Jose. The Filipino-born Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas recently “came out” with an article on the New York Times on his journey as an undocumented immigrant. Jose was never told about his status until his attempt at getting a driver’s license as a teenager. Since then, a team educators, counselors, and friends became what he called his “personal underground railroad” helping him succeed throughout countless obstacles.
“[Even with all these achievements,] I am still an undocumented immigrant…It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful,” Jose recounted.
An American in every way except for his lack of papers, Jose is just one of many (estimated two million young adults and teenagers) who are striving for the American Dream, who know no other home, but are stuck in immigration limbo.
The gridlock in Washington has only produced rhetoric. Many Republicans are demanding more enforcement even after billions of tax-dollars have been spent on border security. Some are even suggesting overturning bedrock constitutional rights such as birthright citizenship. Meanwhile, Democrats are criticized for paying only lip-service at best and using immigration as campaign tools at worst. All the while, being the party responsible for record numbers of deportations.
Advocates are now asking President Obama to halt deportations on DREAMers and other non-criminal immigrants, which are the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants.
But with the newly-graduated class of 2011 comes another summer without the DREAM Act or real relief for these aspiring young Americans. In this state, we do not have to leave these students behind, many of whom high-achieving, do not qualify for most financial aid, but want to contribute fully to the Commonwealth.
Currently, Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities require these students, albeit graduates of local high schools, to pay the often unaffordable out-of-state tuition. A bill before the State House would change that.
Unfortunately, misconceptions and outright denial of facts are still rampant in the media, ranging from portraying in-state tuition as a “handout” or scholarship, to undocumented students “jumping the line” – claims which echo the larger immigration debate. While some Massachusetts state legislators might give in to those emotionally-charged and exclusionary claims, others can find the real policy impacts to have net-benefits for all parties involved – or simply acknowledge the humane and just treatment these young people deserve.
Allowing these students to pay in-state tuition does not take away “seats” of other students since they are admitted and enrolled like any other student. Secondly, these students still would not be eligible for federal grants and loans, let alone any state-funded aid – but are given the equal chance to pay the same rate as those they graduated high school with. Lastly, studies have shown that graduates of Massachusetts public colleges are far more likely to stay (work, invest, pay taxes) in Massachusetts, not to mention the millions of additional tuition revenue otherwise loss according to the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation.
Finally, in-state tuition would pave the way for these students to be DREAM Act-eligible, until the “adults” in Congress get their act together.
This week, neighboring Connecticut will enact an in-state law, following a dozen other states including conservative legislatures such as Texas and Utah. There is no reason why Massachusetts (a state known of education) cannot offer education equality in this regard.
Our students need not languish for another year of educational purgatory. Passing in-state tuition will demonstrate that investing in these young people will benefit states blue or red and urge politicians across the aisle to do what’s right for the future.