At a young age I moved to the United States in search of the “American Dream.” I quickly realized that in order to see this dream come true education was going to be the vehicle that would help me get there. I attended DePaul University and today I work for a great organization that allows me to enact my goal and passion every single day. Because of my own life journey, I understand first-hand the importance of education and what it means to be given the chance to follow one’s dream. Unfortunately, many hardworking students are denied the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning, and ultimately continuing with a chosen career path. This is one of the reasons why the DREAM Act is crucial for not only the community we live in, but to all those students in search of a better life. The Illinois DREAM Act, signed into law on Monday, makes me very hopeful for the future; however, it is important to keep lobbying for the bill at the federal level as well.
Advances toward equal education rights were gained in 1982 when the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not deny students in grades K-12 the opportunity to an education. However, this is not the case for universities. Undocumented children brought to the US by their parents are left in the dark regarding their future academic and career goals. It was not until 2001 that the DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress with Congressman Luis Gutiérrez being the biggest advocate of the bill. For ten years the bill has seen many variations and has been introduced in both the Senate and the House at different times with the help of Senator Dick Durbin. The bill continues to remain at a standstill.
Federal DREAM Act eligibility requirements:
· Came to the United States at age 16 or younger before the date of the bill’s enactment.
· Be between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of bill enactment.
· Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or have been admitted to an institution of higher education.
· Have “good moral character.”
· Have registered with the Selective Service, if male.
While the Illinois DREAM Act does not promise legalization, it does focus on giving DREAM youth the opportunity to attend a college or university and access to different resources that can make this a possibility.
Illinois DREAM Act:
· Does not offer students legal status.
· Since undocumented student are not eligible to apply for financial aid and different grants such as the Pell Grant, the state will distribute privately funded collage scholarships to as many as 95,000 undocumented students.
· Will make college-saving programs such as College Illinois a possibility.
· The Illinois DREAM Act advocates the training of school counselors to help DREAM youth find the best educational opportunities possible. This, in turn, will help decrease the high school dropout rate which has been exceptionally high in the Latino community.
· Helping students to get to and from school, the DREAM Act will enable them to receive a driver’s certification.
In order for a person to fully become an integral member of the United States’ society and enjoy its opportunities, they first need to gain full citizenship. If full citizenship is not gained, there will always be limitations placed on a person. This is why it is important to keep lobbying for the federal passage of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act at the federal level would give students the “conditional” status and, after a period of time, would allow them to apply for permanent residency and citizenship. Lastly, while Illinois youth will certainly benefit from the DREAM Act, there are thousands of immigrant students out there waiting for the opportunity to see their dreams come true.
I see the benefits of the Illinois DREAM Act here at Mujeres Latinas en Acción where many of our youth have joined the “DREAMers.” From the get- go we learn the goals an aspirations of these young girls that become part of our programs. Every single one of them dreams of the day when they get that acceptance letter of a university in the mail. Now, this dream can come true and they can reach their full potential. While other states are passing increasingly anti-immigrant legislation, I am particularly proud of the passage of this bill in the state of Illinois. Illinois has given a voice to many DREAMers, hopefully this will be an example to other states for the signing of similar bills and ultimately the passage of the DREAM Act at the federal level.