Gaby Pacheco wants to be a teacher. She has three education degrees and dreams of opening a music center for autistic children. Eric Balderas loves being in the lab, he has a full scholarship to Harvard University and wants to immerse himself in cancer research. Felipe Matos wants to be a high school teacher, he dreams of inspiring at risk kids to go to college.
They also dream of a day in which they won’t live in fear of being deported by immigration authorities. All three are undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children. Gaby can’t forget the day when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided her home and detained her family, and Eric himself was arrested by federal agents on his way to Harvard from Texas.
This week, their fears could be eased if the Senate votes in favor of the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation which would allow young immigrants who are students to apply for U.S. residency after going through a comprehensive six year process.
Meet Felipe Matos
“I want these students to have the same opportunities that I had. These young people came to the United States as young children, they were educated here, they have every right to an education and we have to give them an opportunity. This is America’s future”, explains Frances Márquez, an American government professor at Gallaudet University, who attended a recent rally in support of the DREAM Act.
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Officially known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, the bill would grant conditional resident status to qualified minors who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, have been admitted to college, completed high school or equivalent or join the military.
It is currently taking shape as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill being debated in the Senate and would have to face several procedural votes to move forward. An initial vote on Tuesday fell short by four votes, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that he would reintroduce the measure and that it wasn’t a question “of if but a question of when”, the bill would become a reality.
“The Dream Act is all about kids who don’t take anything for granted. Not their education. Not their responsibilities as a member of society. It was written for kids who have the dream to graduate and go to college and stay here – where they were raised. They grew up here. They go to church here. They go to school here. This is their home”, wrote NEA Vice-President, Lily Eskelsen on her blog.
The measure has bipartisan support, but many Republicans oppose it, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has threatened to filibuster the legislation.
To those who are against the measure, Raisa, a student from New York, responds with her own story.
“I didn’t choose to come here, I was brought here as a child from Ivory Coast, Africa. Would you arrest a five year old and put them in prison? I should not be arrested for a crime I did not commit.”
The National Education Association has actively supported the DREAM Act, and is urging the Senate to move forward with the legislation which would offer hope to more than 65.000 undocumented high school seniors who graduate each year. (Read full statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on the DREAM Act.)
In a letter to Senators, NEA points out that even as the bill paves the way for thousands of students to contribute their talents to the country they grew up in, it also has it’s fiscal benefits for local communities.
For example, a 30-year-old immigrant who graduates from college will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in government expenses each year than if she had dropped out of high school. State and local taxpayers have already invested in the education of these children in elementary and secondary school and through the DREAM Act could benefit from that investment.