Monday, June 1, 2009

The Dream Act

By Percy D. Lujan

Since the moment the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known by the public as the DREAM Act, was first presented to the U.S. legislature, it has faced the opposition of some groups that qualify it as a threat to the U.S. economy. However, even within the pro-immigrant movement, there is still debate on whether this act should be passed or should it be included within a more complete package of immigration reform.

The organizations against the DREAM Act argue about the cost of undocumented immigrants (the ones they refer as “illegal aliens”) to the government, and subsequently to taxpayers. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, better known by the noble name of FAIR, undocumented immigrant students cost the states “$12 billion annually” from kinder garden to their senior year of high school. Other organization, known as the Heritage Foundation reports the states pay “$100 million annually” to pay for their in-state tuition.

In addition, according to FAIR bilingual programs are said to cost taxpayers from “$290 to $879 per” student. The money that is used to provide K-12 education to children of undocumented immigrants, according to a report published by FAIR, is capable of minimizing the educator “per student ratios,” which will mean fewer students per class. Also according to the report, in New York, with $3 billion dollars that are spent with these children is capable of covering the cuts done to “payments to hospitals and nursing homes.” In summary, illegal immigration and the children of undocumented immigrants are taking away resources from U.S. citizens. The DREAM Act, according to these organizations would actually add to the cost that U.S. society pays because of undocumented students.

It seems that these organizations really like numbers, and the more they have to do with money the better. FAIR even has “U.S. Population Clock” which changes to show the actual U.S. population, the immigration in-flow every year, and the projected population for the year 2050. This number/money-fascination is one of the reasons why supporters of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) are very uneasy with the ideals these self-denominated U.S.-loving organizations support.
I happened to attend one of their conferences in the New York University on March 9th. In a meeting that was appointed for nine, so people could come at nine-thirty, so they could start at ten, we actually started at ten and twenty minutes. The objective of the conference was to educate the attendees on what the Act was and how to get involved in order for it to be passed. There were about thirty to forty people present. Not being an activist myself, I found the work they do inside the organization to be very interesting in the sense that they are seemingly sure that what they are fighting for is a fair cause.

The day was divided up in three activities, the first of which we would divide ourselves into groups and learn different aspects of the movement. The second of which we would play a Jeopardy game to learn about the different numbers, people, places and other data related to the movement (which the group I was in won under the name of “Indu” which is a misspelled abbreviation of the Spanish word for “Undocumented”). The final activity being about the ways in which we could contribute to the movement.

During the first activity our host explained that the proponents for the DREAM Act have been engaged in a serious of tactics to convince politicians to support their cause. In California, supporters biked from North California to South California in the name of the Act. In Georgia, they had the original idea of sending pillows, symbolizing their dreams, to their senators.
Supporters of the DREAM Act are not all from Latino origin as it is stereotypically thought. Their backgrounds vary (though a significant majority seems to have Latino origins). Marisol Ramos, one of the members of the NYSYLC claimed by the end of the conference, “We are doing this because we are not intimidated by no one.”

The conference was an opportunity to know some of the proponents of the Act and ask them for the reason why they think these students deserve it to be passed. Another member of the NYSYLC named Sonia Guinansaca spoke about why she thinks the Act will be passed on 2009. “Of course [the Act will be passed],” Guinansaca declared, “for the main reason there is a lot of people working on it, so it's going to get passed. You cannot be pessimistic.”

Among the supporters of the Act were some high school students like Columba, who studies in a Brooklyn high school. As a way of thanking her for letting me interview her, I will keep her last name and school confidential. Columba explained the way in which she thought this new piece of legislation would benefit her. “Me, as an immigrant, that [the DREAM Act] will help me to accomplish my dreams and I want other people to accomplish their dreams.”

Should the Act be passed now, or should it be part of a more complete plan to renew the actual immigration system? This question is the one which sets apart some of the goals within the pro-immigrant movement. Whatever your opinion is on this Act (and hopefully I did not make mine too evident), it is possible for it to become of the most talked-about topics of this year.

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