Sunday, August 30, 2009

DREAM Act should become real as soon as possible

Reposting an Article By the Tricity Herald editorial staff

"Imagine you are a child and your parents tell you the family is moving.

You may not want to go, and you probably don't fully understand why your parents want to leave in the first place.

But what choice do you have? You're just a kid.

So you go with your family.

Years later, you discover your family entered the country illegally. You also realize you and your family could be deported at any time.

But you've grown up in this new country. You've made friends. You've gone to school. You may have joined the school band or sports teams or even been elected class president. This is your home.

So you continue on and find a way to go to college. It's expensive and you make sacrifices, like nearly all college kids do, but for you there is no guarantee it will be worth it.

Sure, you can get the degree. But will you be able to use it?

Probably not.

This is the predicament for hundreds of young people, who through no fault of their own have an "illegal" status.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a huge, controversial issue that is likely to stagnate for years.

But there is a piece of it that could be sliced away to help these young people.

It's called the DREAM Act and it needs to become a reality as quickly as possible.

Under the DREAM Act only certain people who meet the criteria would qualify for conditional permanent resident status, meaning they could stay in the country legally for six years.

During that time, they would be able to work, drive and go to school on the same terms as other Americans.

They would not be eligible for Pell Grants or certain other federal financial aid grants. But they could apply for student loans and federal work study programs.

After the six years, they would be granted unrestricted permanent residency status as long as they didn't commit any crimes and didn't take lengthy trips abroad. They also must have either served in the U.S. armed forces for two years or graduated from a two year-college or vocational school or spent two years studying for a higher degree.

This proposed legislation is narrow enough to apply only to those illegal immigrants who entered the country as children, attended school and are on their way to becoming model citizens.

To qualify, the children must have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthdays and have lived in the country for at least five years. They need to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, or been admitted to college or some other institution of higher education.

Critics will say the DREAM Act is an end run around immigration reform. But it really isn't. It applies only to certain individuals who were too young to know they were breaking the law when they entered the country.

Some critics also might say the DREAM Act will attract even more illegal families to the United States. But that's not a certainty.

There are a variety of reasons people try to sneak into the U.S. Primarily, it's to find work.

And they usually get it.

They work in the fields and the factories and in menial jobs for low pay that most other Americans aren't desperate enough to want.

The United States has created a net of problems by not enforcing its immigration laws, and innocent children end up getting tangled in an unfair and flawed system.

U.S. laws are ignored to keep a cheap labor force. The country then welcomes all children into its education system.

We use tax money to educate illegal immigrant children through high school, allow them to earn college degrees and then offer no way for them to stay in the country legally. Should we send them away so another country can reap the benefits of their knowledge, skills and talent?

Where's the sense in that?

For most of these illegal students, going "home" means going to a country where they feel like a foreigner. Many don't have a support system to help them, as their family has moved away.

And if they are deported or voluntarily return to their homeland, under the current law they must wait 10 years to apply to re-enter the United States. Then they are put on a waiting list.

For the most part, these students are exactly the kind of hard-working, determined young citizens the country needs. Their lives shouldn't be put on hold because they were too young to know they were breaking national laws.

The DREAM Act would help them achieve their goals, and it would help keep the U.S. from wasting its educational investment.

Washington's two senators support the bill. U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings told participants at a recent town hall meeting that the issue ought to be part of a comprehensive reform package.

Immigration laws are in desperate need of an overhaul, but these deserving young people easily could grow old waiting for that to happen.

This is a piece of immigration reform that is doable. Hastings and the rest of Congress should get behind it."

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