The following English re-print of an Op/Ed column on the DREAM Act ran in the September 14th edition of el Nuevo Herald and quotes ILRC’s Policy Director, Mark Silverman. The article is written by Jorge Ramos an Emmy-award winning journalist, senior news anchor for Univision Network and one of the most recognizable figures in Spanish language news. Mark was instrumental in helping Ramos frame the argument for DREAM Act passage presented in the column.
Ramos calls for “students to identify the senators who do not support this measure, call their offices and press them to vote for the Dream Act.” Civic participation is one of the ILRC’s three main program areas and we believe immigrants should be heard on the issues and policies that affect their community.
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Immigrant Legal Resource Center
PLAN B: THE DREAM ACT
By Jorge Ramos
c. 2010 Jorge Ramos
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
The bad news with regard to immigration reform in the U.S. is that a path to legalization for 11 million undocumented residents will not be available this year.
And perhaps not next year. Or the year after.
But there is some good news. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, "is seriously considering submitting the Dream Act to a vote before November," according to his spokesman, Jose Parra. "He is making sure he has 60 votes," Parra says, and Reid is also asking senators on both sides of the aisle to support the measure, hoping that passage of this legislation will at last spark further reform.
Since Plan A, comprehensive immigration reform, has already failed this year, let's push for the Dream Act, Plan B, which would allow thousands of undocumented students access to university education through student loans and federal work-study programs, and make them eligible, upon completion of a degree or two years of military service, for a permanent residence permit (or green card). The measure would require that immigrants must have entered the country before they were 16 years old; been here for at least five consecutive years; graduated from a high school in the U.S.—or earned a general equivalency diploma—or have been accepted into an institution of higher education.
There is already a possible timeframe for passage—the issue now is collecting the needed votes in the Senate. This is precisely the news that many undocumented young people have been waiting to hear. After all, they are innocent of any wrongdoing when it comes to their immigration status—their parents brought them to the U.S. when they were babies or small children.
While coming here wasn't their decision, they nevertheless did what everyone else does: attend school. But the great cruelty of the American educational system is that it allowed these young, undocumented immigrants to go through high school and then denied them the opportunity to go to college.
And this is a huge problem. Each year about 60,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, but most are prohibited from attending university. For them, tuition is far more expensive, since they are not eligible for in-state rates. They also are not eligible for federal financial aid, making higher education impossible. In fact, only 5 percent of these undocumented students are able to go on to college, according to a study by the University of Washington.
The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that 825,000 young, undocumented people could potentially become legal residents through the Dream Act. These young people have been patient for years, and they are tired of waiting.
Mark Silverman, director of Immigrant Policy at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told me in an interview, "Winning the Dream Act this year is the most important step we can take for an integral reform in the future."
But the hard part is yet to come. Even if Reid calls for a vote in the Senate, only one Republican senator—Richard Lugar of Indiana—supports the Dream Act, though approval of the measure would be politically beneficial for both parties. The Democrats and President Barack Obama would be able to prove to the Hispanic population, with facts rather than with broken promises, that they support these immigrants in their plight.
And Republicans could mitigate the widespread perception that they are anti-immigrant, due to their recent support for both Arizona's new immigration initiative—which would allow police officers to detain people they suspect could be in the U.S. illegally—and measures that would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants.
"This is going to require that groups of students, along with the Hispanic community, keep on pressing the senators who haven't yet given their support to the Dream Act," said Parra. There is a very small window of opportunity to get the Dream Act approved before the midterm elections on Nov. 2. The strategy is clear: It's time for students to identify the senators who do not support this measure, call their offices and press them to vote for the Dream Act. The debate over granting this sort of status to young people has been going on since 2001. The time for waiting is over. The time for Plan B is now. This is the last call.