Where Has the DREAM Act gone and Where Is It Going? A Political Tool Making Progress for Immigrants!

WRITTEN BY: Rene’ Roa, Jr. ’14

The concept of the American Dream is rooted in the text of The Declaration of Independence which provides “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words have echoed throughout the development of the United States, as a nation predominantly built by Immigrants, whereby the meaning of that dream has continuously developed.  America’s founding fathers believed in Manifest Destiny and their dream was that of the independence from an imperial monarchy. Throughout the generations of Americans this dream has evolved and grown from the desire of independence to the opportunity to have a good job, the ability to own a home and to enjoy a comfortable retirement.  However, the focus of the dream has regressed from focusing on the fruits of one’s life to opportunities such as education, specifically higher education – which has replaced the high school diploma as the qualification to enter the American work force.

The concept of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (Dream Act) began as a legislative proposal in the Senate on August 1, 2001 and has undergone several legislative revisions that have not successfully been signed into law.  In 2012 President Barack Obama put forth an administrative policy that would not deport immigrants who were not a threat to national security saying that “it makes no sense to expel talented young people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”  Using the premise of the DREAM Act the president put forth an executive order temporarily shielding certain persons, who are within in the U.S.A. illegally, from deportation.  This order provides no conclusory solution however; it is only a temporary measure aimed at protecting certain persons who would benefit from the passage of a DREAM Act, if ever actually done.  Furthermore, this policy can be revoked at any time, thereby leaving its beneficiaries with a very uncertain future.

The DREAM Act has not only been in the purview of federal legislation, but also has been actively discussed at the state level. Some states are able to afford its residents protections and benefits beyond the ones offered by federal government. For example, New Jersey has afforded enhanced educational equality to illegal immigrant that is not mandated by federal regulations.

The most recent of 14 states, New Jersey’s legislature passed its own version of the DREAM Act in S2479, which was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on December 12, 2013.  Gov. Christie had won 51 percent of the Latino vote in his recent reelection after pledging to support tuition equality for DREAMers. Christie highlighted his belief that “every child should be able to give the opportunity to reach their God-given potential,” and prioritized “making sure that there’s tuition equality for everybody in New Jersey.”  At the same time however, Gov. Christie did fight to have the bill amended in order to remove provisions that would allow immigrant students to receive state financial aid.

Therefore, both Democrats and Republicans at all levels of the political spectrum are angling to stay on top of DREAM Act legislation because of a growing Latin American population and its effect on respective voter bases. Even though true legislative reform crawls along at a snail’s pace, immigrant communities must continue to press their local politicians for immigration reform because this is not a topic that is about to leave the table anytime soon.  Progress should be made in any way and by any political party looking to make positive change of any size.

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