Over the past few months, the topic of immigration has continued to fuel debate among legislators, the media, and the American public. With federal immigration reform currently stalled in Congress and controversial state laws like the one passed in Arizona continuing to threaten the livelihood of hardworking immigrant families, our nation faces a difficult crossroads. In the midst of this political turmoil, it has been the voices of youth across the country that have forced us all to remember the many lives that remain on hold and the dreams that remain unfulfilled due to our broken immigration system.
Last week, hundreds of undocumented youth traveled to the nation's capital from around the country to urge Congress to move forward with the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide certain undocumented students with the opportunity to earn permanent legal status if they came to the United States as children, have good moral character, finish high school or obtain a G.E.D., and complete two years of college or military service.
The bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and currently has significant Congressional support with 39 co-sponsors in the Senate and 126 in the House. The DREAM Act has also received overwhelming support from the higher education community, religious leaders, teachers and school counselors, civil rights groups, and child advocates.
Some may wonder why such a bill has been successful in garnering so much support at a time when tensions around immigration run so high. The answer is simple. The DREAM Act makes economic sense for our country as a whole and embodies the American value of putting our children first. A recent poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation and First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy organization, reveals that a significant 70% of Americans favor the DREAM Act. And this is true across party lines, as a majority of Democrat, Republican, and Independent voters favor the bill. In fact, Americans are more than twice as likely to strongly favor the bill as they are to strongly oppose it.
As Americans, one thing we all agree on is the importance of investing in the education of our children. In 1982 the Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe that access to a public K-12 education could not be denied to any child due to immigration status as doing so would result in the creation of a permanent "underclass." This statute has enabled immigrant children growing up in America to attend our schools and dream of pursuing a college degree. Unfortunately, higher education is often not a feasible option for the nearly 65,000 undocumented children who graduate from our nation's high schools every year.
One such student is Laura Lopez, a DREAM eligible youth who was brought to the U.S. when she was just one year old. Like so many young people in her situation, Laura's parents risked everything in order to provide her with an opportunity for a better life. Laura, who has no memory of the country of her birth, grew up completely unaware of the limitations she would face down the road due to her immigration status. It was not until she was applying for college that she became aware of the challenges she faced in funding her education and the fact that she would never be able to use her degree to pursue a career in the country she calls home. With a great deal of persistence and courage, Laura successfully completed her degree with honors at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Unable to legally work in America, she now dreams of pursuing a career and attending law school. However, Laura realizes that without legislative action, her dreams will inevitably fall short of becoming reality. After already waiting nearly a decade, Laura has joined hundreds of her peers in publicly sharing her story with the hope of bringing about change for so many others like her.
Hundreds of thousands of children should not be forced to place their dreams on hold. After already investing in their education, it makes no sense that the system then acts to prevent these students from putting their talent to use. The vast majority of the American public believes that leaving so many children to face an uncertain future undermines our values as well as the future prosperity of our country. However, Congress can do something about it and do right by these children by passing the DREAM Act now.
This blog is part of the Peaceful Revolution series that explores innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with MomsRising.org, read a new post here each week.