In 2010, a Journal of Hispanic Higher Education study found that undocumented Mexican students were extremely likely to have high levels of civic engagement and community participation, which are both marks of exceptional citizenry (“Civic Engagement Patterns of Undocumented Mexican Students,” 07.10). Unfortunately, undocumented students face everyday rejection by the United States Government.
Unfortunately, the New York State Senate has recently renewed its apparent stance to disenfranchise thousands of its youth when it failed to pass the New York State DREAM Act, a bill that would have given such individuals greater access to financial aid and scholarship options. The NY DREAM Act needs to be passed urgently: The current provisions for undocumented students are not enough.
The opponents of the DREAM Act need to understand that pro-undocumented legislation has been successful in the past, and that the futures of real, hopeful, living, struggling and DREAMing students are on the line.
Most unauthorized immigrants who live in the U.S. live in poverty. This is why the passing of in-state tuition laws has been vital to expanding opportunity to undocumented students. However, under current policies and due to financial obstacles, only five to 10 percent of undocumented New York high school grads pursue a college degree upon graduation.
What about the other 95 percent of these students? Without a college degree, many promising undocumented Americans are kept out of leadership and barred from a chance to empower and uplift their communities with a college education.
The NY DREAM Act is not a radical piece of legislature—other very successful pro-undocumented policies have carved the path for the DREAM Act. The Plyler v. Doe (1982) ruling ensured that undocumented immigrant children could receive free elementary and secondary public education. This legislation has already allowed several generations—32 years worth—of undocumented students in the country to access the public education system onto higher education. A 2010 study on the effects of America’s first in-state tuition policy in Texas showed that older undocumented high school graduates were found to be almost five times more likely to enroll in college with the in-state tuition policy compared to other Southwestern states that lacked the tuition policy (Education & Educational Research, “The First State Dream Act: In-State Resident Tuition and Immigration in Texas,” 12.10).
Despite this, gradual progress in society on these issues, our representatives cannot sit back and expect the bill to pass without a fight. In 1985, undocumented students in California were given in-state tuition rates and state financial aid, but this ruling was quickly overturned in 1990 before the state restored in-state tuition for undocumented citizens in 2001.
In March 2014, Governor Cuomo and the rest of New York State’s legislators should have raised their voices louder to correct this injustice to thousands of undocumented Americans: the denial of higher education to otherwise deserving students on the basis of national citizenship.
What kind of social message is New York state sending to these young, promising students who were not privileged with an American citizenship?
By denying students state financial aid and scholarships to receive a college education on the basis of a lack of American citizenship, the state of New York tells its people that even though America may be the only land a student has ever seen, even though the cultural history of a child in this nation has been overwritten by an American education and the American media: “Without enough money, you are not treated as an American like everyone else…”
Is this how the US, a country governed and forged from the skills and labor of immigrants, treats its quintessential success stories? Furthermore, the same 2010 study on civic engagement revealed that many undocumented Latina/o students struggled with concerns of depression, loneliness and fear of deportation.
The political climate of the United States perpetually marginalizes these students in the US on the basis of legal status and slowly deteriorates their lives socially, psychologically and emotionally. This is an unjust and a very cruel way to treat people who are otherwise working against incredible odds to empower and sustain their families, communities, and ultimately their country, virtues that Americans are supposed to agree on across the board.
New York should pass the DREAM Act for its economic and educational benefits. But most importantly, the New York state needs to recognize that its policies are also about exclusion, national identity and disenfranchisement. The futures of passionate, hopeful American students are at the heart of this crucial debate. They are more than a facade of hurtful stereotypes, generalizations and statistics. They are America’s 21st century success stories.
—Richard Le ’17 is a student at Vassar College.