Letting immigrants study, fight — and stay

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Pro-DREAM Act poster

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A number of college presidents are speaking out nationally for federal legislation that would let as many as 1.5 million undocumented students become legal if they meet certain conditions -- such as study or military service.

They're backing the DREAM Act, which for years has floated around Congress in various versions but never been passed. (It's different from the failed Minnesota DREAM Act, which sought to give undocumented students in-state tution.)

The act would grant them permanent resident status if they:

  • spent two years in the military;

  • completed a two-year degree from a community college; or

  • completed two years of study at a four-year college or university.

Studying legally would carry a few more perks. They could receive student loans (but not grants), and pay -- at a state's discretion -- in-state tuition instead of the much higher out-of-state tuition.

Among other conditions, students would need to:

  • Have arrived in the United States before the age of 16;

  • Have been in the States for at least five years;

  • Keep a clean record; and

  • Be younger than 35.

(For those who know such students, here's a primer to pass along.)

"This is simply a matter of social justice," said Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

But he and other college chiefs said it's also a matter of economic sense. America, they said, needs smart young people whose talents can be put to use -- not wasted.

Robert Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, said "They will remain in our community and either be contributors to the global workforce or be a liability and drag on society."

Two things I'd like to know:

  1. What kind of support does the federal DREAM Act have here? (I know the University of Minnesota supported the state bill back in the day.)

  2. Could our higher education system get more resources to handle a large number of potentially high-risk students?

Sure, DREAM Act advocates like to highlight superstar youths whose college careers are cut short because of their legal status.

Yet one could argue that a large number of those affected by the DREAM Act would actually come from low-income families who are badly in need of  outreach.

After all, immigrant students here legally traditionally have a harder time overcoming the financial and educational obstacles to college.

The educational system already suffers from unprepared students, a disconnect between high schools and colleges, a dropout problem, growing student indebtedness and higher numbers of students defaulting on their student loans.

But I'm paid to be a pessimist.