Each fall, I teach juniors and seniors how to apply for college. They learn how to find a higher education institution that fits them, and how to how to choose a major. They write essays for scholarships and complete applications for financial aid.
Unfortunately, there has always been two sets of standards, or rules I have had to teach: rules for applicants who are US citizens, and rules for applicants who are undocumented. It is often an emotional discussion, sometimes fraught with students’ tears: a realization of the political realities of economics and education, and dreams – once again – deferred. Needless to say, the topic must be broached sensitively from an educator’s stand-point.
However, it seems I may soon get to update how I teach this.
This past week, the IL Senate passed a state version of the DREAM Act, which, since 2001, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress. The original Development, Relief and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act called for allowing children of undocumented families to “earn” U.S. citizenship by graduating from college, or serving in the military.
Currently, in all except 10 states, the only way undocumented immigrants can attend college is by attending a private institution as a “foreign exchange student,” an expensive alternative out-of-reach for most immigrant families. The national DREAM Act would allow all students to apply for federal financial aid.
However, it would also require all males to register for selective service. The 2008 version of the DREAM Act was tacked on to the Dept. Defense Authorization Bill when Comprehensive Immigration Reform failed in 2007. It changed the tone of the bill entirely. Were immigrant youth more valuable to society as college graduates, or soldiers on the front lines?
With the addition of the “selective service” clause, the majority of young people who would benefit from the DREAM legislation would not go on to higher ed, but would rather apply for military service, making the bill a “de facto draft law for Brown people,” as a teacher colleague described. I found myself against a bill I used to be for.
However, Illinois’ incarnation of the DREAM Act is a step in the right direction. While it doesn’t provide any public funding for the nearly 112,000 undocumented students, the bill establishes an “DREAM Fund,” under the governance of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) with a committee charged with fundraising from private institutions and training high school counselors in higher education needs of undocumented students. The requirements for applying for the DREAM Funds: living in and graduated from a high school in IL, and have at least one parent who is an immigrant.
I have students who will benefit from this legislation. Some of whom have been marching in the streets of Chicago yearly since the 2006 immigration rally for immigration reform. These are students who have dreamed of going to college-their grades, ACT, and service-learning hours are all there-but not their citizenship. If this bill passes in the House intact, then I can imagine they may be cheering in the streets of Chicago very soon.