Debating the Delayed DREAM Act: Children of Illegal Immigrants and Citizenship through Higher Education

Article excerpt

A RECENT, UNSUCCESSFUL effort by Senate leaders to provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the United States illegally sparked debate over the provision among financial aid administrators. The provision, commonly referred to as the DREAM Act, would allow the children of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship through higher education or military service.

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the DREAM Act would be included in a Defense Department spending bill, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators joined the majority of the higher education community to advocate lawmakers to pass the bill.

NASFAA has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act because it fits with the association's mission to remove barriers to higher education especially for underserved student populations. However, NASFAA's diverse members don't always see eye to eye, and this is the case with the DREAM Act.

After NASFAA reiterated its support for the DREAM Act, members expressed their views on the bill and an interesting debate emerged. This column summarizes some of the more common points raised by members who support and oppose the DREAM Act. NASFAA's 2010-11 National Chair Laurie Wolf sparked the DREAM Act debate among financial aid administrators when she posted a blog entry (http://nasfaachair.org/blog/?p=79) explaining why NASFAA supports the DREAM Act and addressing some common misperceptions about the bill.

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Wolf wrote that "children of immigrants (legal or undocumented) are able to attend and receive [a K-12] education in the United States. Through their educational experience, they have been acclimated to our culture. Many of them are high academic achievers who want to give back to their adopted country. Under current law, they are not allowed to move forward with their lives, due to no fault of their own."

SINS OF THE FATHER

In her blog entry, Wolf echoes the sentiment of many DREAM Act supporters who contend that the children of illegal immigrants should not be punished for the actions of their parents. In response to this point, some aid administrators expressed concern that the DREAM Act would open the door to fraud and abuse by allowing adults to claim they were brought here as children to access the new path to citizenship. Others expressed concern that the DREAM Act would increase illegal immigration by providing an incentive for parents to bring their children into the country.

"I would be more inclined to support an effort to help undocumented students obtain citizenship while in high school, before reaching college age," one financial aid administrator writes in a comment to Wolf's blog entry.

ILLEGAL, BUT NOT FOREIGN

The bill would allow children who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 to earn citizenship through higher education or military service. In her Hog, Wolf stressed that these children have been raised and educated in the U.S. and the DREAM Act would prevent this population from being deported to a country about which they have little or no recollection. While most seem to sympathize with children brought here at an early age, one aid administrator responded to Wolf's blog that children brought over just before they turn 16 are probably more familiar with their home country than the United States.

NEW OPPORTUNITY OR REDUNDANCY

DREAM Act opponents often argue that the bill offers amnesty to those who broke the law. Wolf responds to this point by arguing that the bill would not provide automatic citizenship to those who qualify. Instead, the legislation would provide a lengthy path to citizenship.

The DREAM Act would establish a six-year conditional permanent residency status for students who were brought to this country before the age of 16, have been here at least five years as of the enactment date, graduate from a U. …

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