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College Board Report: 350,000 Undocumented Students Would Benefit From DREAM Act

The nonprofit College Board announced Tuesday its support of the DREAM Act, while unveiling a report that said the plan to legalize undocumented college students could benefit 350,000 students today.

The report’s author, Dr. Roberto Gonzales, an assistant professor of the University of Washington, Seattle, School of Social Work, called the barriers that undocumented students face “probably the most important civil rights issue of our time.”

About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools each year, said the report: “Young Lives On Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students.”

Under a 1982 Supreme Court decision, undocumented students can legally attend K-12 public schools. In most states, they can attend college. But other obstacles make that choice difficult. Most states require them to pay out-of-state tuition rates. They don’t qualify for federal financial aid. They can’t legally work to pay for college.

“As they leave the protections of the public school system, they move into an adult legal world … ,” Gonzales said Tuesday during a release of the report on Capitol Hill. “Once they reach late adolescence, when it comes to driving, working, getting financial aid for college, they run into a severe barrier — legal status.”


The DREAM Act would provide conditional legal status to undocumented students “of good moral character” who entered the country before age 16 and lived here at least five years and graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED. They could apply for permanent status after six years of conditional status — that includes at least two years of college or military duty.


“From a public policy perspective, it makes sense to intervene when a sizable subset of our population is vulnerable and disenfranchised,” said College Board Vice President James Montoya, reading from the report.


Gonzales said 350,000 high school graduates would be eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act would provide incentives for another 715,000 high school students to move into college and into the work force.”


Similar bills have been introduced in Congress before. Most recently, it failed in 2007 when its sponsors couldn’t muster the 60 votes to avert a filibuster. But Joseph Zogby, chief counsel to the bill’s Senate sponsor — Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., — said “we’ve never been more optimistic” about its prospects.


Zogby cited larger Democratic majorities in Congress, growing bipartisan support for the Senate bill and the House bill, and President Barack Obama’s backing.


“There’s a fundamental economic underpinning of the DREAM Act … which is, we have made an investment in these young people through their primary education and their secondary education, and in order to see a return on that, we must give these students an opportunity to fully contribute to pursue higher education and to become tax-paying members of our society,” Zogby said.


“The DREAM Act is an economic stimulus package, ultimately.”


But proponents of immigration limits scoffed at the bills’ likelihood of passage — and the suggestion it would stimulate the economy.

“It has failed because the middle class realize the impact of passage of the DREAM Act would have on their kids … and I don’t think they care who’s in control of Congress,” said Ira Mehlman, national media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The fact of the matter is, there are a finite number of seats in any university system, and they’re becoming more finite. If those kids didn’t fill those seats, somebody else’s kids would fill those seats — coming from families that didn’t break the law.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said: “The fundamental question is, do we punish children for the decision of their parents? When their parents came to the United States, they didn’t have a choice. It’s hard to fill out immigration forms when you’re in a stroller. Punishing children … is as un-American as it gets.”

P.J., an undocumented student, 23, from South Korea, came to this country at age 5 with her parents. They came on student visas and stayed after they expired. The entire family lost its legal status.

At the College Board event, P.J. recalled how her mother told her she was undocumented when she was 14. After high school, she was accepted to a private liberal arts college, then dropped out to work as a waitress when she couldn’t afford it.

Eventually, she earned a full scholarship to Bucknell University. After graduation, she got a job — as a full-time nanny. With financial help from her father’s company, she now attends Columbia University graduate school.

“I graduate in about four weeks and, once I graduate, there is absolutely nothing for me to do,” she said, then stopped as she choked up with tears. “It’s extremely difficult. I just don’t know what I’m going to do. Undocumented people, we love America. We just hope America will embrace us back.”

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