The DREAM Act explained
Second in an ongoing series of articles prepared by La Luz Center
"Latinos Fuel Growth in Decade" was the headline in the March 25 issue of the Wall Street Journal, reporting on the results of the 2010 Census. The Hispanic population surged 43 percent, rising to 50.5 million in 2010. Latinos now account for about one in four people under the age of 18 in the United States.
Last year, The DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act passed in the House but was silenced in the lame-duck session of the Senate and therefore not implemented. If passed, it would give hope to hundreds of Sonoma Valley undocumented students. These students, most often brought to the United States by their parents as infants or young children, call this country home despite being denied many of the rights and privileges enjoyed by United States citizens and know no other country as home.
Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate high school in the United States without a clear path forward. Countless others drop out of school because of the lack of educational incentive, often falling back on under-the-table work wherever they can get it. The Act, which would create a route to citizenship and allow states to determine eligibility requirements for in-state tuition, would ensure that undocumented students with the drive to attend college or serve in the armed forces have the full ability to contribute to our society. The Act would:
• Grant undocumented students a pathway to citizenship.
• Allow undocumented students who meet the established criteria to apply for "conditional" permanent residency status for a period of six years. The criteria would require that the student must have entered the country before the age of 16 and been present in the United States for a continuous period of 5 years.
• Require the student to satisfy one of the following: Earn a degree from a two-to-four-year institution of higher education, or serve two years in the armed forces. Students meeting all of the requirements would be eligible for federal student loan and federal work-study programs.
• Protect students above the age of 12 enrolled in primary or secondary school from deportation and provide them with work authorization.
The DREAM Act is not a free pass. It gives a voice to the countless hard-working students who did not willingly break any laws and followed their parents to a country that supposedly provides the opportunity for a better life. The WSJ article, referenced above, reported that "nearly 92 percent of the nation's population growth over the past decade ... came from minorities." In the face of these changing demographics, we have two options. We can pass legislation that would help create educated, informed individuals with the skills and ambition to make positive contributions to the economic, cultural, and social well-being of our community; or we can ignore the facts, ignore the inhumanity, and force undocumented students to waste their talents on low-wage, low-skill jobs and a life in shadows. The alternatives seem quite apparent.
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The La Luz Center is an non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that Sonoma Valley's most challenged populations have the opportunity to be productive and to make positive contributions to the economic, cultural and social well-being of our community.