Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country made the choice that will help shape their futures for years to come–where to attend college. But with exorbitant tuition rates and unprecedented cuts in student aid, for many, there was no choice at all.
And while state universities have leveled the playing field for low and middle-income students–with tuition rates at a fraction of those for private schools–thousands of undocumented immigrants are deprived of the chance of attending state schools altogether. Currently, the 65,000 undocumented high school students who graduate each year are technically ineligible for in-state tuition rates, and as a result, often must forgo college, work menial jobs, and more or less abandon their American dreams. Many of these students have lived in America for the majority of their lives, speak perfect English, and have exceled in high schools.
The bipartisan DREAM Act— which was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2003 and included in the McCain-Kennedy bill– would reverse this excessively punitive policy and also provide opportunities for these students to eventually obtain full legal status. But with the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform and indefinite stalling in the Senate, many states, fearing longterm federal inaction, have now taken up the cause.
On April 12, “red” Nebraska became the 10th state to open up in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. Rep DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, former chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, who spent five years trying to get the bill passed, rejoiced as the state legislature overrode Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto by a vote of 30 to 16.
Josh Bernstein of the National Immigration Law Center believes that the victory in Nebraska will help pressure the Senate to pass the DREAM Act nationally.
“We should take these kids out of the battlefield of this [immigration reform] war, because that’s not where kids belong” said Bernstein. “The DREAM Act, fundamentally, is not even about immigration policy, it’s about how we treat young people who grow up here,” said Bernstein.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation’s new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.