The DREAM is alive in some cities and states

Some states and municipalities aren’t waiting around for Congress to pass the DREAM Act. “Despite the anti-immigration rhetoric of the 2010 mid-term elections, states and municipalities have already begun expanding educational access for undocumented students to attend state universities and community colleges,” says Progressive States Network.

If Congress were to pass it, the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for young people who, as children, were brought into the country by their parents. As they go down that path, they would be required to either serve in the military or attend college.

Despite the strong support of the Obama administration and public opinion, the bill, at the national level, has faced stiff opposition in Congress.

One recent study found that the DREAM Act enjoys strong support across party lines. According to the study, “after hearing a brief description, sixty-six percent of voters support[ed] the DREAM Act, including majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (60%), and Republicans (57%).”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that the DREAM Act would provide 55,000 young people an opportunity to improve their lives and the nation’s economy. It was filibustered by Senate Republicans earlier this year.

“There is a real moment of opportunity for us to do the right thing for young people,” Duncan says.

And that’s exactly what a handful of states and cities are doing. In a November 18, 2010 article, Progressive States Network summarized some of these hopeful developments

Progress toward tuition equity

In a unanimous decision on Nov. 15, 2010, the California Supreme Court upheld the state’s tuition equity law, “which allows all high school graduates, including those who are undocumented, who have attended state schools for at least three years to pay the same in-state tuition rate paid by US citizen and legal permanent resident classmates and neighbors to attend higher education institutions.  The decision, which overturned a lower court ruling and was authored by one of the court’s most conservative justices, underscores the wisdom and validity of the state’s 2001 tuition equity law.”

To date, 10 states have passed tuition equity laws.  They are: Colorado, Utah, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico, and Nebraska.

The rationale for these laws is that they will help the states meet future workforce demands, reduce government expense and increase their tax bases. Progressive States Network cites studies showing that “expanding education access for immigrants translates into greater tax revenue and lower levels of public-benefit expenditures.”

A promise of inclusiveness

New Haven, Connecticut and Yale University officials recently announced plans to expand educational opportunity for all qualifying New Haven public high school graduates, including those who are undocumented, to attend the state’s public colleges or universities, beginning next year.  New Haven has pioneered other common-sense initiatives that seek to integrate undocumented immigrant residents by taking immigration status out of the question with respect to accessing key city programs and services.  In 2007, the city unveiled a municipal identification card, which is available to all residents regardless of their immigration status.

Most states prefer integrating new immigrants

As PSN highlighted in a report last year, a majority of undocumented immigrants now live in states where in-state tuition is available, highlighting the fact that states with the longest experience with immigrant populations recognize the advantage of policies to integrate new immigrants into the economy rather than indulging in punitive policies.  So states like New Jersey, Maryland and Colorado are part of a wave of states which see the value in educating and retaining talented kids who want to stay in state and contribute to their local communities by paying taxes and creating jobs.