In the article that follows, blogger Rachel Higgins provides an objective analysis of an often polarizing topic: the hotly debated DREAM Act and what rights, if any, illegal immigrants should have when it comes to securing federal money for college. Structural Patterns has looked at many of the issues art students face when choosing a school, but has rarely touched on the politics of that choice. As Rachel explains, how these issues are resolved may have long-lasting impacts on both students and programs. Rachel often writes about pressing issues in education, though she spends the bulk of her time editing a website for students interested in earning a quality degree on the Internet.
A Discussion Surrounding Immigrant Education and the Right to College
Illegal immigration to the United States has been a long-standing issue in this country – but in recent years, the DREAM Act has polarized the topic even further. Proponents of the bill have lauded its creators for implementing a system by which undocumented aliens can receive an education and contribute to the national economy, while detractors argue that individuals who enter the country illegally have no right to the same privileges afforded to legal citizens.
Introduced in 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act provides citizenship to illegal immigrants who entered the United States as minors, completed their high school education, and lived in-country at least five years before the bill was adopted. The conditional residency is extended to six years if the citizen either serves two or more years in the U.S. military or completes at least half of a four-year college degree program. Since he took office in 2008, President Obama has been an active supporter of the bill’s provisions. His latest measure came in June 2012, when he sidestepped Congress to defer deportation of undocumented citizens who met the necessary criteria.
As President Obama and his Republican rivals have argued over the DREAM Act, state-level support for illegal immigrants who wish to earn a college degree remains stagnant. While California successfully passed an initiative last year to allocate a set amount of financial aid to undocumented alien youths, other states have been forced to take alternative routes. In New York, for instance, initiatives to provide financial aid to undocumented citizens who wish to attend college have stalled. This has led several advocacy groups to create the state’s first scholarship program for illegal aliens; thanks to heavy contributions from a number of private donors and non-profit organizations (most notably the Fund for Public Advocacy), a handful of undergraduates in New York City’s university system will receive roughly $2,000 per semester. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has supported measures that provide reduced tuition for more than 32,000 undocumented students; however, Perry’s proviso forces beneficiaries to pledge to obtain legal status within three years after graduation, as opposed to the federal act that grants citizenship amnesty. Supporters of illegal immigrant rights touted Perry’s plan, but most of his Republican colleagues argued against it – and the issue may have contributed to Perry losing the Republican primary appointment that instead went to Mitt Romney.
Supporters of the DREAM Act argue that the entire country benefits from measures that ensure education for all citizens, legal and illegal. “[The DREAM Act will] play an important part in the nation’s efforts to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently noted, adding that a higher number of educated citizens will bolster America’s standing within the global economy. The initiative also creates a wider recruitment pool for the U.S. military, and allows the Department of Homeland Security to devote more resources toward the deportation of individuals who actually pose a threat to national security. Finally, a recent study conducted by researchers at UCLA found that complete enactment of the initiative would boost the national economy by as much as $3.6 trillion in taxable income; in its present form, the DREAM Act cuts the federal deficit by $1.4 billion and will increase federal revenue by as much as $2.3 billion over the next decade.
But as John Hudson of The Atlantic Wire recently wrote, the DREAM Act has endured a large amount of opposition from conservative politicos. John Frum of The Week characterized the bill as a “deceptive piece of legislation with very sinister consequences” intended to mobilize Latino voters without producing the results they collectively desire; he also noted that the act essentially encourages immigrants to enter the country illegally on behalf of their children, who would face little to no penalties for their parents’ illicit actions. Mark Krikorian of National Review also referenced the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, by which a quarter of the beneficiaries were awarded amnesty under fraudulent pretenses. One such beneficiary, Mahmud Abouhalima, later masterminded the first World Trade Center bombing. And Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies noted that the DREAM Act is inherently expensive; if each immigrant received $6,000 per year in tuition subsidies, he argued, then the measure would cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $6.2 billion per year.
The latter topic – cost to federal taxpayers – has been a major talking point between supporters and opponents of the DREAM Act, with both sides citing different figures to bolster their claims. But as Rachel Leven recently wrote in Duke University’s Sanford Journal of Public Policy, the budget for U.S. citizenship activities is primarily financed through fees paid by immigrants; deferral applicants each pay $465, and the federal government estimated in August 2012 that the total amount generated from these applications would fall between $467 million and $585 million. Leven also noted that applying for deferral does not guarantee it will be awarded. Furthermore, a study conducted by the Center for American Progress earlier this month found that the 2.1 million beneficiaries under the most recently proposed version of the bill would generate $329 billion for the national economy, while passage of the act would create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.
Despite Republican opposition claiming the DREAM Act is too expensive to enact in the United States, these studies reveal that the measure could greatly benefit the American economy in the long term. And in the process, millions of minors who were brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own have been granted the opportunity to receive an education and compete in the job market.