Gang of 8: Dreamers Deserve Financial Aid

04/22/2013 07:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2013
  • Charlene Obernauer Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, Co-Founder of New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition

For those of us who have been advocating for a good immigration reform bill, we're excited to be one step closer to a relatively sensible piece of legislation. The bi-partisan bill is the result of true compromise: a lot of good, some bad and a little ugly.

Dreamers, or young people who were brought to the country before age 16 and qualify for the DREAM Act, are set to benefit the most. Regardless of their current age, if Dreamers can prove that they got here before they were 16, they'll be put on a five-year path to citizenship. Dreamers that already applied for deferred action will be put on a fast track towards Registered Provisional Immigrant Status.

So it seems like they got the best deal, and in a way, they did. But for young Dreamers who are struggling to get an education, the increasing cost of college is going to be a huge barrier to their success. Unlike low-income U.S. citizens, Dreamers will be unable to access financial aid, state, or federal scholarships, and will likely be ineligible for many loans. Instead of going to college, 39 percent of Dreamers will be forced into a low-income economy with little opportunities because their tentative status makes them ineligible for financial aid.

For the U.S. economy, that's a waste of money. Taxpayers have already invested in the education of our country's undocumented students from kindergarten to high school. To cut off that aid for students after their high school graduation is just bad policy, especially when they're already on a path to become U.S. citizens.

We're at a unique time in the history of our country. For the first time in several decades, we are very likely to see immigration reform move forward. The GOP is urging their members to remember the Latino vote and to be sensible about immigration. Democrats are moving beyond party politics to work with Republicans. They're compromising, and they've worked with Republicans to create a bill that has the potential for bi-partisan support.

Unfortunately, it looks like earned benefits of any kind -- like financial aid for young undocumented students -- have been struck from the negotiating table. But the GOP ought to remember that Latinos don't just vote for immigration reform alone. They vote for the party that will best represent their interests.

As the bill goes back and forth between parties in the upcoming weeks, I hope that we can win a real victory for Dreamers: not only a path to citizenship, but also a path to an education.