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Friday, July 16, 2010

Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, many at the top of their classes, but cannot go to college, join the military, work, or otherwise pursue their dreams.  They belong to the 1.5 generation—any (first generation) immigrants brought to the United States at a young age who were largely raised in this country and therefore share much in common with second generation Americans.  These students are culturally American, growing up here and often having little attachment to their country of birth.  They tend to be bicultural and fluent in English.  Many don’t even know that they are undocumented immigrants until they apply for a driver’s license or college, and then learn they lack Social Security numbers and other necessary legal documents. 
According to Professor Roberto Gonzalez of the University of Washington:
[t]he experiences of undocumented children belonging to the 1.5 generation represent dreams deferred.  Many of them have been in this country almost their entire lives and attended most of their K-12 education here.  They are honor roll students, athletes, class presidents, valedictorians, and aspiring teachers, engineers, and doctors.  Yet, because of their immigration status, their day-to-day lives are severely restricted and their futures are uncertain.  They cannot legally drive, vote, or work.  Moreover, at any time, these young men and women can be, and sometimes are, deported to countries they barely know.  They have high aspirations, yet live on the margins.  What happens to them is a question fraught with political and economic significance.
Because of the barriers to their continued education and their exclusion from the legal workforce, many undocumented students are discouraged from applying to college.  It is estimated that only between 5 and 10 percent of undocumented high-school graduates go to college—not because they don’t want to, but because they cannot afford it or because some schools will not allow them to enroll.  Even worse, there is often little incentive for them to finish high school, leading to high drop-out rates and the potential for them to become involved in gangs and illegal activities.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act,” would provide a pathway to legal status for the thousands of undocumented students who graduate from high school each year.  On March 26, 2009, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced the DREAM Act as S. 729 and H.R. 1751, respectively.  To date, the DREAM Act has at least 39 co-sponsors in the Senate and 124 in the House.
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