As a nation built by and for immigrants, the 21st-century attitude toward immigrants seems counterintuitive. It makes sense that hardworking taxpayers wouldn’t want to financially support illegal immigrants through the welfare system, but the resistance to legalizing these immigrants and making them a contributing part of the population only perpetuates the financial burden and social tension. The DREAM Act is one hotly contested issue that, if it were allowed to pass without excessive burdens attached, would make a major step toward integrating illegal immigrants into the legal population.
The goal of the DREAM Act is a noble one. In its ideal form, the DREAM Act would “provide a path for undocumented students to obtain access to education, employment and legal status in the United States” (Sharron 601-02). Though no bill makes it through to law without riders, if the DREAM Act were allowed to function as intended, it would seem correct the complaints that most Americans have about illegal immigrants. By integrating those undocumented children into the system, they would become legitimate, tax-paying citizens with just as much stake in the nation’s success as someone who had been born here.
Currently, the system seems to funnel undocumented immigrants into the lowest income bracket intentionally, keeping them in a position to require welfare assistance even though that very position is why undocumented immigrants are so resented. The law currently protects the educational rights of undocumented children, but only to a point: “A Supreme Court decision in 1982 (Plyler v. Doe) guaranteed undocumented youngsters a free public school education. But this ruling applied only to K – 12. Access to postsecondary education remained severely constrained by federal laws that prevented undocumented students from receiving financial benefits to attend college” (Drachman 91). As it stands, this law practically guarantees that undocumented children will be stuck with a high school education at the very best, giving them little incentive to finish their high school degree.
It makes perfect sense to protect the educational rights of undocumented children since they can hardly be held responsible for their illegal status. Even if they made the individual choice to come to this country illegally, they are still children and can’t be held accountable as adults would be. What does not make sense is cutting them off at an educational level that is considered only the most rudimentary degree of success among our own children. The DREAM Act does not provide money specifically for illegal immigrants, it only levels the playing field for them when they reach the age to worry about college.
The benefits of this level playing field are very tangible. Improving the job opportunities for undocumented immigrants does not only help them, but it also helps the entire nation by increasing taxable income and working the immigrants into the system so they can be legal citizens. Sharron cited the monetary advantages of college-educated immigrants: “According to a 1999 RAND study, an average 30-year-old immigrant who graduated from high school and college paid $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in criminal justice and welfare expenses annually than an immigrant who never finished high school” (636). Since most undocumented children have no prospects of going to college as the laws currently stand, as has been stated, they would be more likely give up on high school and simply enter the workforce at a younger age.
Considering how many immigrants would benefit from the DREAM Act each year, these monetary differences would add up fast. According to Sharron, “Every year, 65,000 potential DREAM Act beneficiaries graduate from high school” (639). Even if the number of high school graduates didn’t go up with better chances to get a college education after, this would mean that every year the government would receive almost $350 million in additional taxes and pay over $250 million less in welfare and criminal justice expenses than it would without the DREAM Act. Since one of the most critical issues of our era is balancing the budget which is a matter of bringing in more taxes and giving out less money, these figures make the DREAM Act a seemingly obvious choice.
For opponents of the act that worry illegal immigrants will receive some advantage over residents and citizens, that is an issue to be resolved in the passing of the act, not a reason to disregard it entirely. The United States began as the home of a dream, a concept of equal opportunity. That dream has been corrupted and complicated and even forgotten by many, but people in other parts of the world still come here hoping for a chance to improve their place in the world and give their children something better. The DREAM Act is one law that would protect the American dream and benefit the nation in a very tangible way at the same time.
Drachman, Edward. "Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Students." Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, vol. 18, 2006, pp. 91-100.
Sharron, Jessica. "Passing the Dream Act: Opportunities for Undocumented Americans." Santa Clara Law Review, vol. 47, no. 3, 2007, pp. 599-643.