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A D.C. Dream Act

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Last month a lot of people were shocked by the suicide of 18-year-old high school student, Joaquin Luna, from Texas, who killed himself apparently on worries of his undocumented immigration status. The student left notes to family members indicating his frustration with the Dream Act failure to pass.

Because of the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a national Dream Act, many states have opted for implementing their version of the Dream Act. The Dream Act (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2001 and last on December 2010, during a lame duck session of Congress. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but failed a super majority in the U.S. Senate by five votes (55 U.S. Senators supported the bill, 41 opposed it). The Dream Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress in May of this year, under bill S.952. Since its initial introduction, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-ILL), has led much of the effort on behalf of the Dream Act.

It is estimated that as many as 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools each year. The Dream Act would not only provide in-state tuition at state colleges and universities to undocumented students, but it would also give those students a path to legalizing their immigration status. In response to the slow action by the U.S. Congress, already 13 states -- California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington State and Wisconsin, have some version of a local Dream Act granting its state undocumented student population some level of tuition relief in their state.

Washington, D.C., being the nation's capital, has an opportunity to weigh in on the Dream Act. Washington, D.C. only has one state University, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), and since 2009, the Community College of the District of Columbia (UDC-CC). The community college has been offering the same tuition to all students, but starting in 2012, due to D.C. Council legislation, UDC-CC will be charging different rates for non-D.C. residents. The non-D.C. rate (out of state), is the usual rate most undocumented students pay.

At a meeting I, and others from the D.C. Latino Caucus, held with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, earlier this year, the chairman showed interest in supporting legislation for some educational relief for undocumented D.C. youth. The D.C. Latino Caucus has been promoting the Dream Act in D.C. by introducing resolutions in support of the D.C. Dream Act in Ward 5, the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, and the D.C. Democratic State Committee.

Given the relatively low immigrant population in D.C., legislation in favor of a D.C. Dream Act will probably not have a significant impact on these state schools. But here again, as with the recent immigrant mayoral executive order and the D.C. Council Secure Communities Resolution in 2010, D.C. is in a position to lead as our nation's capital on a subject that legislators at the national level can't agree on -- the Dream Act.

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