There are an estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. They have made significant sacrifices, risked their lives crossing borders, accepted below minimum wage, all in the hopes that one day their children will be able to attend better schools, access better-paying jobs and attend college.
Most of these parents have managed to get their children into elementary schools and high schools. From kindergarten through 12th grade, these undocumented students place their right hands over their hearts every morning and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States. These immigrants who have spent most of their lives in the United States now live restricted lives. Unable to work or attend college, they face the fear of being deported back to a country they have never known.
There is hope on the horizon, however. President Obama has been advocating for an immigration reform act that would benefit second-generation immigrants: the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, would provide a five-year-long conditional path to citizenship that would allow qualified undocumented students who attended and graduated from high school in the United States to attend college or join the military.
After living in the United States for five consecutive years, avoiding criminal convictions, and serving in the military or achieving a bachelor’s degree, undocumented immigrants would be able to attain citizenship. The DREAM Act has given hope to undocumented students who would otherwise have not been able to receive financial aid while attending college.
A DREAM Act has already been passed in the state of California and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. This law allows undocumented students to qualify for financial aid and in-state tuition only if they meet GPA and residency requirements, such as graduating from a California high school. Parents with children in college worry that allowing undocumented immigrants to receive aid would significantly reduce the amount of financial aid available to their children.
But though undocumented students would indeed qualify, financial aid would only be provided after all eligible legal residents have received aid. The 2.1 million students who would benefit from the California DREAM Act represent less than one percent of the student population and would not have any significant impact on student funding.
This act is a significant step forward for California and should be expanded to include the rest of the country. However, there are those who are against the national DREAM Act and fear that the passage of the DREAM Act would push the United States further into debt. But this is not the case. The DREAM Act is not only beneficial for undocumented immigrants, but to the American economy as well.
Allowing undocumented students access to higher education at colleges and universities would provide legal immigrants access to better-paying jobs, which would yield more taxable income. A study conducted by UCLA’s Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda for the Center for American Progress found that undocumented immigrants generate $150 billion in revenue every year; the Center for American Progress found that by 2030, the passage of the national DREAM Act would create 1.4 million jobs and add an additional $329 billion in funds to the United States economy.
Providing the United States’ undocumented immigrants with financial aid for colleges, just as the California DREAM Act does for the state’s estimated 2.1 million undocumented immigrants, would bolster the economy financially. Even more than the California DREAM Act, the national law would also give undocumented immigrants an incentive to pursue higher education because it contains a provision that would grant legal status. Higher education leads to better-paying jobs that would not require those here illegally to be paid under the table, and thereby allowing them to raise their standard of living and boost the economy.
In addition, the citizenship clause in the national DREAM Act would improve on the California law by allowing undocumented immigrants to become contributing, taxpaying members of society, enabling them to return the favor to the country that allowed them to be successful in the first place. The Center for American Progress also notes that the financial benefits of the DREAM Act would not be a one-time immediate occurrence, but would develop over time with the economic benefits increasing as time progresses.
The DREAM Act would also create a wider range of candidates for the military and armed forces to choose from. Immigrants would likely be skilled in foreign languages and cultural awareness, knowledge that has often been in short supply within the military, and military experts have advocated for the passage of the National DREAM Act.
Likewise, undocumented immigrants bring a valuable point of view to our institutions of higher education and would make valuable contributions to science and the humanities after they graduate from our colleges. Rather than deporting immigrants back to foreign countries, why not use the talents they have gained in the United States for the United States? In fact, deporting undocumented immigrants would only put the United States further into debt. According to the Center for American Progress, a mass deportation of just 4 million undocumented immigrants could cost the United States between $206 billion and $230 billion over the course of five years.
There are more than two million children, teens and adults with so much potential and promise just in the state of California that remind us every day why the DREAM Act should be passed on the national scale. Frankly, the decision comes down to what is right and what is wrong—what is better for our economy and what is not. There are always costs and benefits with every law, but in the case of the DREAM Act, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
All these students want is an opportunity to prove to both themselves and the United States that they deserve the right to remain on American soil. To deny them this simply because a piece of paper says that they are not American would not only be a moral injustice, but an economic injustice as well.
After all, what makes a person American anyway? Is it a birth certificate? Or is it the patriotism for a country you hold in your heart? California has already passed its own DREAM Act. Now, the United States should do the same.