Making the DREAM Real

09/20/2010 02:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This past week was quite exciting for supporters of the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children, who complete some college or military service. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate majority leader, announced that he would attach the DREAM Act to the Defense Authorization Bill, and bring it to a floor vote. Other people have done far more justice explaining why the DREAM Act is vitally necessary to our nation's economic and national security than I could do here. Instead, I want to talk briefly about how we can channel the energy behind the Act, so that once passed, the DREAM becomes reality.

In drawing a distinction between "DREAM" and "reality," I am drawing on the title of a recent Migration Policy Institute report that estimates that out of the 2.1 million people who would be eligible for legal status under the provisions, only 38 percent would ultimately succeed in obtaining it.

Think about it - only 38 percent, less than half - would actually become legal residents through the DREAM Act. MPI believes that large gap between those eligible and those attaining legal status can be attributed to three main roadblocks:

  • English-language ability, which hampers the ability to complete schooling
  • Income and poverty status, which makes it difficult to pay for college education, and forces many people to choose between work and education
  • The presence of dependent children, which can also provide a time-burden for those taking classes.

So how do we solve the problem? How do we turn 38 into 100 percent?

I would like to propose that once the DREAM Act is passed, activists and advocates work to create a network of fellowships, grants, and support for immigrants on the path to legalization. Since the biggest challenges are economic and language based, I'd envision financial support for tuition, childcare, and work-relief, as well as training to improve English-language skills.

Fellowships for immigrants and minorities are not exactly new, and one possible model is the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, which provides graduate education funding for new permanent residents and naturalized citizens. The Soros Fellowships take about 30 people per year, so what I am talking about would have to be on a much grander scale. But why not think big? Why not establish a small-grant program, that gives a few hundred or thousand dollars to anyone eligible and pursuing the DREAM?

I remember once hearing a noted immigration scholar argue that the publication of Samuel Huntington's 2004 diatribe against Latino immigrants, (in which he argued that massive immigration from Latin America was threatening the foundations of American culture and identity,) opened a floodgate of funding for people working to disprove Huntington's claims. Maybe passage of the DREAM Act will create the momentum for a similar movement to prove MPI wrong, and help every DREAM Act beneficiary achieve legal status.