DREAM Act to Help Some Students, Hurt Many Others
Controversial bill would require U.S. citizens and legal residents to compete with illegal immigrants for financial aid benefits.
As high school seniors prepare to submit their college applications, parents across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about how they will afford the skyrocketing price of college tuition and related fees.
Just this year for instance, the University of Illinois raised its tuition rates by 9.5 percent and their fees by an additional 3.2 percent. Conversely, due to budget deficits, approximately 100,000 Illinois students lost up to $4,500 each in state educational grants for the 2010-11 academic year.
In the past, parents and students relied on federal and state financial aid resources to help them cover college tuition, fees and expenses. Beginning January 2011, however, students who are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents may receive lower financial aid packages if a controversial bill is voted into law next week.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010 or DREAM Act of 2010, sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) seeks to repeal a portion of a 1996 immigration law that forbids states from offering illegal immigrants educational benefits that are not also available to U.S. citizens. It would allow illegal immigrants to obtain federal educational loans and compete with the neediest U.S. citizens and legal residents for work-study jobs at colleges.
It would also open the door for states to offer illegal immigrants state educational financial aid resources. Finally, although the bill would not allow illegal immigrants to obtain federal grants during their first two years of college, they would be able to obtain federal grants during their third and fourth years of college.
To be eligible for temporary residency status, illegal immigrants would simply have to show that they graduated high school or obtained the high school equivalency (i.e. GED) and were of good moral character from the date the act was passed. Therefore, even certain convicts would be eligible to become legal residents as long as their convictions occurred prior to passage of the Act.
After obtaining a two-year degree or serving in the U.S. military for two years, undocumented immigrants would be able to petition for permanent residency status.
Previous versions of the DREAM Act would have benefitted illegal immigrants who were in the U.S. before the age of 16 and had resided here for at least five years and who were under 35 years old. The House version of the bill, the American Dream Act and the most recent version of the DREAM Act do not have a maximum age clause thus opening up opportunities to countless more illegal immigrants to legalize their status through this act.
Under the older versions of the act, approximately 1.2 million illegal immigrants would be immediately eligible to legalize their status with at least an additional 65,ooo becoming available each year thereafter. Under the new versions, though, it's estimated that up to 2.1 million illegal immigrants would be immediately eligible to legalize their status with many more becoming eligible each year thereafter.
As the bills do not have expiration dates, illegal immigrants would be eligible to legalize their immigration status for decades to come.
Noticeably missing from each of over a dozen prior DREAM Act type bills is any language that would add funds to the federal financial aid program. If passed, current and future U.S. citizen and legal resident beneficiaries of federal financial aid would have to compete for existing financial aid dollars with up to 2.1 million illegal immigrants newly added to the federal financial aid rolls effectively lowering the award amounts for some while eliminating the awards altogether for others.
Although the DREAM Act has been around in various versions since 2000, Congress has never conducted a cost analysis of the act and so there is no solid figure of how much the bill would cost the U.S. taxpayer. Students are able to borrow up to $9,500 per year in federal loans. If just 1.2 million of the estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants who would immediately benefit from the act applied for student loans, the federal government would have to lend approximately $19.2 billion for the first two years of the act alone.
These figures would increase exponentially the third year after passage because the illegal immigrants would then be eligible for federal grants as well of up to another $9,500 annually per student. These figures do not include funds illegal immigrants would receive under the federal work-study program.
Unless millions of new jobs were created for all these newly legalized workers (and none were lost), it's expected that many would default on their student loans. Currently, the student loan default rate is hovering at about 7 percent.
Aside from adding millions of more people into the federal financial aid rolls without increasing funding for the program, the DREAM Act would also grant illegal immigrants authorization to work, to collect welfare, medicare, social security and unemployment benefits among other benefits. They would be able to petition for their family members to immigrate to the U.S. as well.
Interestingly enough, foreign students legally in the U.S. would still be required to cover their own educational costs. Furthermore, despite the fact that legal international students typically have advanced degrees, have a history of following our laws and regulations and would be cheaper to legalize since they've already paid for their own educational expenses, no new mechanism would be added to allow them to become legal residents in the U.S.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has repeatedly stated that she would vote in favor of the DREAM Act if it came up for a vote in the House. She and other amnesty proponents claim that the bill would educate millions who in turn would be able to start their own businesses for instance.
Opponents of the bill question whether its wise to offer a bailout-type bill for illegal immigrants when more than 14 million Americans are unemployed and many more are underemployed. Additionally, the bill would not require beneficiaries to major in any specific fields so, theoretically, illegal immigrants would receive permanent residency status for completing a general associate degree which could include classes in bowling and basket weaving; hardly the training required to jumpstart the flailing economy through entrepreneurship.
The DREAM Act has been added to the lame-duck Congress' agendas in both houses and is expected to pass in the final days of the Democrat-controlled Congress. Debate on the bill will begin as early as Monday.
If passed, it would be the eighth immigration amnesty/legalization bill to pass in 24 years and would still leave open the possibility of a larger amnesty bill that would address the plight of the remaining 10 million to 18 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. who would not be eligible to legalize under the DREAM Act.
Writer's note: As a Latino male, I understand the sensitivities of race relations in the U.S. Please note that no references to race or culture have been made within this piece.