With more than 10 million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States and little action on the national level, many states have begun to take immigration regulations into their own hands. While Arizona and Alabama have tightened immigration laws, California has moved in the opposite direction.
On Saturday, October 8, California Governor Jerry Brown reformed the state’s immigration laws by signing the California DREAM Act Part 2, making California one of only a few states to pass legislation providing public aid for undocumented students.
The California DREAM Act is modeled after a national bill of the same name that seeks to create a pathway to citizenship and provide conditional permanent residency to illegal aliens who entered the United States before the age of 16. The bill, which was originally introduced to Congress in 2001, is conditional upon an alien having lived in the United States for a minimum of five years and having either attended college or served in the military.
In light on inaction on the national level, California’s version of the bill was introduced in 2010. In 2011, Brown split the bill into two parts. The first and less controversial half, which allows undocumented college students to receive private funding and scholarships, was signed into law in July.
Under both portions of the bill a student must have attended a California high school for at least three years and must prove that they are applying for legal residency.
Governor Brown’s actions make California an example of what leaders on state and national levels should be working towards. Recently the immigration debate has been centered on a discussion of amnesty and whether the creation of a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens currently residing in the United States encourages people to break the law. However, the DREAM Act can and should be considered separately from the amnesty debate.
The DREAM Act does not encourage bad behavior, as it was not the decision of the minor to enter the United States in the first place. Rather, the DREAM Act rewards good behavior. The legislation encourages the pursuit of higher education, provides individuals with a way to support them and gives them more ways in which they can contribute to Californian society.
It is unjust to punish minors who were not involved in their families’ decision to move to the United States and whose illegal status is no fault of their own. Our legal system attributes very few rights to minors and holds parents fully or partly responsible for all decisions regarding their children—why should we view immigrant children any differently? Furthermore, all individuals who would be eligible for scholarships under the DREAM Act have been raised in the United States—they are, for the most part, fluent in English, have a strong sense of American culture, and oftentimes consider themselves to be first and foremost, Americans.
One major objection to the California DREAM Act is that education in California is severely underfunded and that allowing undocumented students to receive scholarships would divert funding away from legal residents. However, the act provides that aid only be provided to undocumented students once it has been dispersed to legal residents. Additionally, 30 percent of student tuition in the UC system is put in a fund for financial aid. Undocumented students are contributing to this fund, yet they have no access to its benefits. The inability to access scholarships forces many students to take leaves of absence. This, in turn, prolongs students’ graduation dates.
Encouraging the pursuit of education by undocumented immigrants is an investment in the future of California. The economic effects of not providing students with the opportunity of higher education could be far more costly in the long run and could lead to an increase in people dependent on the state.
Furthermore, funding issues will be ameliorated if the DREAM Act is passed on the national level. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in a 2010 report that the DREAM Act would “reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period and increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years.” The incorporation of high achieving immigrants who are more likely to hold mid- to high-paying jobs into the tax bracket would be a huge boost to the American economy
Regardless of one’s opinions on the immigration debate at large, the signing of the California DREAM Act must be applauded as a step in the right direction. Both acts encourage the pursuit of the American Dream and espouse traditional American ideals of work ethic and perseverance. As we await action on the national level, the California DREAM Act provides other states and the nation with an example of reform that serves as a stepping-stone toward future legislation.