Fair Treatment for Undocumented Students

Education is often said to be a key to success and one of the best ways to realize the American Dream. However, approximately 50,000-65,000 foreign-born students graduate from U.S. high schools each year only to realize that their diplomas do not grant them access to higher education. These students – among them valedictorians and award winners – are prevented from pursuing their educations because their parents brought them to the United States without legal status. About 1.1 million students are undocumented, representing 2 percent of the total student population. NOTE 1 Most often these students entered the country when they were too young to understand how they arrived. Currently, there are no avenues for them to acquire legal status or become citizens because they cannot obtain family-based sponsorship from their undocumented parents. The obstacles these students face concern many community members, including teachers, public officials, and immigrant advocates. In response to this problem, lawmakers of both parties have proposed solutions.

The DREAM Act and the Student Adjustment Act
Two bipartisan measures have been introduced in the 108th Congress to address the needs of undocumented students: the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) and the Student Adjustment Act, both of which are now pending in Congress. The DREAM Act, S. 1545, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) on July 31, 2003. This bill would grant “conditional permanent resident” status to students who came to the United States prior to the age of 16, have lived in the United States for at least five years at the time of enactment, graduated from high school, and demonstrated good moral status. Conditional permanent residence is different from lawful permanent residence in that it would be awarded for a period of six years instead of indefinitely. Time spent by students in conditional permanent resident status would count towards the residency requirements for naturalization to U.S. citizenship. An extension would be granted after the six-year period upon a showing of good cause. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security would have the power to waive the conditional residence requirement altogether if compelling reasons prevent their completion and if the removal of the student would result in extreme hardship to the student’s spouse, parent, or child.
The companion to the DREAM Act, the Student Adjustment Act, H.R. 1684, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) on April 9, 2003. The bill would allow young people under 21 years of age to adjust to permanent resident status if they have lived in the United States for at least five years, are in 7th grade or above, and have good moral character. In addition, it would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to again permit states to determine residency for in-state tuition purposes. Thus, students would be able to afford the rising costs of higher education, the dream that they have worked for so many years to attain.

A Matter of Fairness
The DREAM Act (and the Student Adjustment Act) is based on the principle that it is unfair to punish children for the actions of their parents. The courts have found that “legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility wrongdoing” [Weber v. Aetna Causalty and Surety Co. 406 U.S. 164, 175 (1972)] and that undocumented children “can affect neither their parents’ conduct nor their own status” [Plyer v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 220 (1982)]. NOTE 2 Thus, undocumented students cannot be held liable for an immigration status that resulted from their parents’ actions, and the federal government cannot continue to punish them by denying the opportunity for adjustment of status and a higher education.
It also would be unfair to deny undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates because they, like other state residents, pay taxes that support public universities. The Internal Revenue Service began issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers in 1996, with Congressional support, so that undocumented immigrants could pay taxes. Since then, about 7 million undocumented immigrants have contributed to the tax pool. NOTE 3 Some state governments have realized that the parents of undocumented students continually pay state taxes, as opposed to parents of out-of-state students. Since these students are raised in-state, they will most likely remain in the state after graduation and therefore provide increased tax revenues as members of an educated workforce.
Moreover, the DREAM Act would not give preferential treatment to undocumented immigrants. If the DREAM Act is passed, then undocumented immigrants would compete in the college-applicant pool along with other state residents, non-residents, and foreign students. The most qualified students would be selected and the rest would have to pursue their educational dreams by attending a different porno university or community college.
Benefits of the DREAM Act
Equal Opportunity: The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students with the same opportunity as their classmates to become productive members of society.
Reduced Drop-Out Rates: Because of their immigration status and the associated barriers to higher education, undocumented students are more likely to drop out of high school than students who are U.S. citizens. The high drop-out rate of students in the United States costs taxpayers and the economy billions of dollars each year. If the DREAM Act is enacted, it would help lower drop-out rates and motivate undocumented students to continue their education after graduation from high school.
Fiscal Advantages: By increasing the number of students who graduate from high school, the DREAM Act would increase tax revenues and reduce government expenses. A 1999 study by the RAND Corporation found that an average, middle-aged immigrant woman who graduates from college pays $5,300 more in taxes and uses $3,900 less in criminal justice and social welfare services each year than if she had dropped out of high school, amounting to a fiscal contribution of $9,200.

Economic Advantages: Demographers and economists such as Alan Greenspan have stated that the United States is facing a long-term labor crunch that will threaten our economy in decades to come. This means a shortage of workers in teaching, nursing, the service sector, and other occupations. The beneficiaries of the DREAM Act could be a part of the solution to this problem because they will most likely become productive workers, homeowners, and investors. NOTE 5

The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students with the same opportunities as other students, thereby helping them to realize the American Dream. These accomplished individuals deserve to be rewarded for doing the right thing, not punished. We as a society would benefit a great deal from investing in further educating undocumented students so they can reach their full potential. Giving them this opportunity also provides them with the skills and knowledge needed by the U.S. economy.