California pushes its own Dream Act further

Father Tom Joyce CMF| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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The Dream Act was introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D, IL) even before the Kennedy-McCain comprehensive reform that failed. There are thousands of undocumented students who have been brought to this country by their parents when they were under 16, were raised here and know it as home, graduated from high school here, and have even been to college. Among the challenges these students confront, in addition to possible deportation, are the prohibitive costs of higher education, since they are ineligible for any government assistance and in only a few states qualify for the reduced in-state tuition. What the federal Dream Act would do is give the “dreamers”--as these students are called--a path to citizenship if they complete college or military service. It would also make them eligible for federal student aid. The bill passed the House of Representatives while still controlled by the Democrats in 2010 but died in the Senate.

This year some states have passed “little Dream Acts”, which grant in-state tuition, as in Maryland and Massachusetts, to facilitating private funds that would give scholarships or non-state assistance to dreamers, as in California and Illinois. But California has now gone further by enacting a second part to its Dream Act--granting state scholarships to state colleges, granting some state aid, and waiving fees at community colleges. An estimated 40,000 may qualify for such assistance. The measure is expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and has the endorsement of the heads of the various branches of the University of California and the California State University systems. To qualify a student must have attended a California school for three years and have graduated from a California high school. He or she also has to have a clean record.

The California Dream Act passed on a straight party vote--all Democrats for and all Republicans against. So outraged are some Republicans that they are challenging the law by way of a ballot referendum. Someone will probably take it to court as well. Still the California Dream Act is the boldest of the state initiatives.

There is little expectation a federal Dream Act would get through the current U.S. Congress. The aid state laws give to dreamers is nonetheless invaluable. Families of dreamers have paid their children's ways through college by mortgaging their homes. After graduation obtaining employment is another issue, as dreamers are currently not entitled to a Social Security number and must support themselves in the shadowy, underground system of personal contacts.

While state Dream Acts help the dreamers, they can’t give them citizenship. While dreamers aren’t likely to be bothered by Homeland Security and fear deportation,  it is still too early to assess the promises of state legislation to grant them the right to work. Proponents of the Dream Act welcome the California initiative as a step toward fairness to young people who had no more choice to this country, but know no other home. Without this kind of legislation, the nation would be throwing away talent is had already paid for.