Students Hope to See the DREAM Kept Alive

Oregon teacher Roger Berger has a student that members of Congress should meet.

She recently graduated at the top of her class, the winner of a prestigious science award with plans to study pre-med at Stanford University. “She was the most positive student I’ve ever seen — good person, good grades, everything you’d want…” he said.

“And then her world came crashing down.”

When Berger and his wife, school counselor Melody Bustillos, began working with the girl’s family on college applications and, most significantly, college financial aid forms, the student discovered that she was an undocumented immigrant. Long before she could remember, her parents had brought her to this country illegally.

As senators weigh a key vote on the future of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow thousands of undocumented students to attend college and join the United States military, NEA urges them to consider what’s at stake. “These are gorgeous, innocent children who will be condemned to a life in limbo if we don’t do something to help them,” NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen urged a Capitol Hill panel last week. “Their talents and gifts will be lost — not to them… but to us.”

Earlier this week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a vote  to begin debate on DREAM. That vote could come as soon as today, but likely will be later. In the meantime, leaders in the House of Representatives also have signalled that they will take up DREAM, possibly Friday.

To urge your Senator or Representative to vote yes, go here.


Berger knows the kids who are waiting for that DREAM to come true. He wishes legislators did too. They’re student-body presidents, leaders in the classroom and playing fields, and highly motivated to succeed. “Every kid I’ve ever seen, in that situation, they just want to contribute. They want to have  chance for the normal stuff — to have a job, have a family, that’s all they want,” he said.

“I don’t know what harm there is in that.”

Berger and Bustillos run a club for dozens of Hermiston High School’s first-generation college students called Generation College. Their goal is to support students and families as they navigate the new terrain of college admissions: what does it take to get in? When is this application due? What tests are required? How do you apply for financial aid? With scholarships from local community organizations, the club also helps pay for the costs of admission, including visits to colleges.

For that one girl, who discovered she lacked the proper documentation to get financial aid, the door to Stanford quickly shut. She couldn’t possibly afford the tuition. She now attends community college, but probably can’t afford to transfer to a four-year state university either. Where she might have become a pediatrician, she’ll probably be lucky to be a babysitter.

“And you can’t just say, ‘Go home then.’ Because this is their home. They don’t know any other place,” Berger said.

These are the very kids that this country needs, especially in tough economic times, said  Cecilia Muñoz, director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House. “These are young people who are working very hard… some of them are real stars,” she said. “It makes no sense to slam the doors of opportunities in their faces. We have everything to gain, as a country, by making sure that everybody has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

The way DREAM would work is, to qualify for conditional legal status, you must already have lived in the United States for the past five years; you must be under 35 and arrived in this country before the age of 16; and you must graduate from high school. Then, if you attend college for at least two years or serve in the military — and also remain in good moral standing — you could apply for permanent residency.

Most likely, according to analysis by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, about 38 percent of the 2.1 million undocumented students in this country now would actually earn green cards. And then, they’d like earn between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years,and pay billions and billions in state and local taxes, according to recent research by Raul Hinojosa of UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center.

“It’s not amnesty, it’s an opportunity. And, to me, that’s what this country is all about,” Berger said.