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KC Wednesday: Snapshot of a DREAM

by on September 6, 2012

On the heels of the opening day of the Democratic National Convention, I found myself finishing up this blog post – a post that would represent an issue of the day for the Latino constituents of NASPA. While the article was almost complete, I found myself wanting to wait until I heard some of last night’s speeches before putting on the finishing touches. While neither Julian Castro nor Michele Obama discussed specific policies or issues (that was not their role), they spoke about the underlying issues that really speak to what this article is going to review. They spoke about the importance of opportunity. They spoke about the importance of a college education.

That brings me to today’s blog post topic. What fascinates me so much about the Dream Act is that even though I live in NYC, it was NASPA that introduced me to what this legislation was all about. More specifically, I had never heard of the Dream Act until I sat through a meeting of the Latino Knowledge Community.  It’s certainly not discussed often on the local or even national news. Trade publications like The Chronicle, Diversity in Higher Education and Hispanics in Higher Ed are doing a good job of publishing articles and information and that is fabulous. However, the people who are affected by the possibility of this legislation don’t read The Chronicle. It’s up to those of us in Higher Education to arm ourselves with information that we can easily pass on to the students we serve daily. That is what I am going to attempt to do in this short piece – to provide a little background and a few definitions to whet your appetite and encourage you to do a little more independent research to understand the importance of such a policy.

What is the Dream Act?

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or Dream Act was first proposed in 2001 in a bipartisan effort to allow undocumented residents of the country to receive conditional permanent residency if they displayed good moral character,  graduated from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. Within the six-year period, they may qualify for permanent residency if they have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services web site).

The act has indeed undergone a variety of iterations since its initial inception and the 2009 version changed slightly in that students who do not have a high school diploma, but did acquire a GED are also eligible. What has not changed in any of the versions is the requirement of “good moral character.”

Good moral character is a legal term often used in immigration law and generally refers to a clean criminal record. Undoubtedly we want to live in a world where we can feel confident that our neighbors, colleagues and fellow human beings are good people. Moral character is a subjective term that without care can mean a host of things that have nothing to do with criminality or one’s goodness. The terminology may have other repercussions should any loop holes exist in any legislation that may be passed – something to think about as the discussion continues.

 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), individuals who meet the following guidelines may request consideration for deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, allowing eligibility for important privileges like a driver’s license and employment authorization. Below are the requirements.

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

 

While DACA overlaps with the Dream Act, it is not a replacement for it. DACA is a an effort by the current administration to address issues of homeland security while practicing discretion on what they deem “low priority” cases, that is, individuals who meet the above criteria and are, of course, of good moral standing. The Dream Act still needs congressional approval for permanent residency to be granted. DACA does not grant permanent residency or a “pathway to citizenship” (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services web site).

 

What does this all mean for Higher Education?

“Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.”

This, I imagine, would be a key statement to those of us in the world of enrollment management and student development. There is likelihood that many individuals who do not have a legal status in the United States may not have had any formal US education or military training. Individuals interested in pursuing deferred action or eligibility for the Dream Act, should it ever pass in Congress, will need to find a legitimate and appropriate educational track to meet the above requirements.

As is evident, this piece is far from comprehensive and complete and I am certainly no expert on the matter. However, the intention here is to introduce you to the subject, stimulate some thought, encourage additional research and provide awareness to colleagues in the field who may have no knowledge of this. Undoubtedly, the DREAM Act and DACA provide a great deal of hope to many in this country. Higher education opportunities will become an integral part of supporting this population as they continue to pursue the American DREAM.

Rosann Santos-Elliott is the Associate Director of Student Transition Programs at John Jay College in New York City and the Region II Latino Knowledge Community representative. She has been in higher education for about 12 years primarily focused on residential life, student life, orientation and commencement. She resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and five-year old son.

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