Saturday, January 17, 2009
The DREAM Act
There are a lot of interesting topics and actions to read about over on change.org and its causes page. Though there's plenty of great stuff on the Women's Rights page, one of the causes I feel the strongest about is The DREAM Act which is under the Immigration Causes. DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.
This act, a piece of bipartisan legislation, has been developed to assist young people who were raised in the U.S. and either attend college or enlist in the military. The DREAM Act would grant those who qualify conditional legal status and eventual citizenship if they met the following requirements....
-were brought to the US before the age of 16 and are below the age of 30.
-lived here continuously for five years
-graduated from a US high school or obtained a GED
-have good moral character with no criminal record
-attend college or enlist in the military
Currently the Act does not help with tuition so only those who are very self motivated would be able to qualify.
I know quite a handful of kids my age who grew up primarily in the US but are now faced with possible deportation to a country they left when they were just children or in some cases toddlers. A few of these are dangerous countries, places their parents never imagined their children would be sent back to. There are zillions of kids who grow up in the U.S. but aren't able to legally drive, work, or pursue their dreams. This is not exactly helping our country to run smoothly. In fact as the change.org website sites, the Social Security Administration stated that if we have a net increase of 100,000 immigrants a year we can solve the Social Security crisis. This actually makes sense since these students would be receiving an education and then would be legal tax paying citizens.
I first found out about the DREAM Act when the radio program "This American Life" did a show called "Nice Work If You Can Get It". In the last segment they talk with a girl "Martha" who was born in Mexico but grew up in a poor neighborhood in east Los Angeles. It seemed like the typical Horatio Alger story - she was elated to be accepted at UCLA where she majored in chemistry and ran a volunteer organization on campus. Yet Martha's dreams are of being a doctor, an OB-GYN to be more specific. Unfortunately, she can't work legally as a doctor in the U.S. In fact she can't work legally at all. At one point she got a great position as a research assistant to a professor, yet then found out she would have to be on the books, which was impossible. So she is currently working off the books as a waitress and as she puts it "the worst part is, I suck at it". Personally, I can totally identify with being smart enough to get into a good school but really bad at being a waitress. The concept of having no choice but to be a waitress makes me feel panicky. On top of that she says that people treat her badly or automatically assume she's a single mother with no education.
At UCLA, Martha was surprised to meet many other brilliant yet undocumented students who had great grades and worked hard at both school and their other jobs. This group of students even formed a group that mentors undocumented high school students and raises money for their scholarships. Most of these UCLA students live hours from campus to save money....so they stay days or weeks at school -showering in the school showers, sleeping in the library. The fact that they can still pull of the grades under these conditions is amazing.
Twenty years ago California allowed undocumented kids to go to college with financial aid. Five years later the courts reversed that. These days ten states allow undocumented kids to go to in state colleges and pay in state tuition. But they don't offer financial aid, work study jobs, or student loans.
To apply for a Greencard Martha would have to go back to Mexico, where she hasn't lived since she was a small child. Then she'd have to wait 10 to 15 years before most likely being denied.
Martha says she dreams of being a doctor "because she enjoys being a public servant and a scientist" and she of course wants the feeling of respect that comes with the job. For her, respect is something you fight for, not something you are granted "just by being human".
In the story, Martha struggles with finding the will to finish school, not only because of the insane hours, the 2.5 hour commute (public trans. because she can't get a license), the endless waitressing, or the zillion other responsibilities. Its hard for her because she knows that even if she could find a way to afford medical school after UCLA, she still wouldn't be able to work at her dream job. You must be a citizen to work as a licensed doctor.
As the story's reporter, Douglas McGray, puts it "there is a very easy solution" - The DREAM Act. If a student finishes their degree or their enlisted time they can become a citizen. Barack Obama has said multiple times that he supports this Act and I really hope his administration gets right to work on ending the bureaucracy and actually passes The DREAM Act.