09/01/2011 03:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jose Antonio Vargas: A DREAM Act Deferred?

This piece comes to us courtesy of Education Nation’s The Learning Curve blog. Jose Antonio Vargas, Define American founder and former journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, writes.

[Ed. Note: On Wednesday, the California Senate passed AB131, one half of the California DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to apply for public aid. The bill will now go to the Assembly, which has previously approved it.]

In a seminal poem tied to the very early years of the civil rights movement, Langston Hughes wrote: “What happens to a dream deferred?”

Just ask the estimated 24,000 undocumented students who graduate each year from California's public high schools. Most of them -- English-speaking students who grew up in this country and call America their home -- have difficulty pursuing higher education. It is not because they don’t want to; it is not because they lack will or talent. On the contrary. These students aspire to be doctors and lawyers, engineers and teachers. But their dreams are dashed, their future limited, because they lack the legal status to qualify for financial aid. They came to America without documents as minors and, through no fault of their own, are being punished for it.

Congressional leaders in Washington tried to right this wrong. A bipartisan bill called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was introduced in the summer of 2001, just a month before the September 11th attacks. Ten years later, the bill is still stalled in Congress, and bipartisanship is tougher to come by. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in particular, no longer supports the bill he originally co-introduced. Meanwhile, individual states have wrestled with the issue.

Unlike most states, California allows undocumented students who graduate from public high schools to pay in-state tuition at the Golden State’s public colleges and universities. However, they are still not eligible for financial aid.

Over the latter half of the past decade, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed five different bills designed to offer some form of financial aid to undocumented students. Progress finally came this year, when state assembly member Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) introduced the California DREAM Act in two bills.

This piece has been truncated. Read the full piece at Education Nation's The Learning Curve.