01/07/2011

States continue to DREAM

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Although the Senate quashed the DREAM Act in December (see earlier story), immigration activists, as well as the AFT, haven’t given up. “We are greatly disappointed that the U.S. Senate voted against allowing the DREAM Act to come to the floor for debate and a vote,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “We applaud the courageous students across the country who have fought for this legislation. The AFT will continue to champion the DREAM Act in the future. It is a practical solution that upholds the best of our shared American values.”

Some focus has shifted to state laws that could expand higher education opportunities for young residents applying to college, regardless of their citizenship status. Eleven states—California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin—have already passed legislation allowing undocumented students to attend their colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.

Calling his proposal the “Maryland DREAM Act,” Maryland state Sen.-elect Victor R. Ramirez hopes Maryland will join these pioneering states. He will introduce a bill during the current session that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, provided they have attended two years of high school in Maryland, have parents or caregivers who are state taxpayers, and express intent to seek legal status. A similar bill was approved by Maryland’s General Assembly in 2003 but vetoed by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich; the measure later passed in the House of Delegates in 2007, but failed in the state Senate. If it makes its way through the Assembly this year, supporters are hopeful that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley will sign it into law.

While it’s not exactly the original DREAM—which would have provided a direct path to citizenship for undocumented students nationwide—in-state tuition laws could be a big help. “It’s about educating the residents of Maryland,” says Ramirez. “It’s the right thing to do.”

DREAM, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, would have allowed unauthorized immigrants to apply for legal permanent resident status on the following conditions: if they are under the age of 35, arrived in the United States before age 16, have lived in the United States for at least the last five years, and have obtained a U.S. high school diploma or GED. The resulting conditional citizenship would have been made permanent upon completion of two years of postsecondary education or military service, and the maintenance of good moral character.

The Obama administration registered disappointment about the U.S. Senate decision but remains committed to the cause. [Virginia Myers]

January 7, 2011