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Improving the DREAM

All students deserve access to higher education and a prosperous future, regardless of their immigration status. Federal legislation that would permit young illegal immigrants to gain legal status and ultimately citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military is in California’s and the country’s best interest.

The reasons to support the DREAM Act are moral, pragmatic and economic. Young people go where their parents take them, and it is unjust to punish them for being brought into the country illegally. In many cases they have been living in the United States for so long and from such a young age that their roots are no longer in such places as Mexico, Korea, China or India but in California, Florida, Michigan or New York.

It is uncertain whether the DREAM Act, which advocates hope will come to the floor during the current lame-duck session of Congress, has the votes to pass. Seven Republican senators who once supported it are still in office, but their positions on it today are unclear. Their support was given before the recession began in earnest and before “tea partyers” emerged threatening to oust partisans who strayed from the far right. To court the fence-sitters, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has modified the legislation. For example, applicants would have to be 29 or younger to be eligible, down from 35, and would be barred from participating in the exchanges created by the healthcare reform law until they become citizens. Also, students who become “non-immigrants” under the act’s provisions wouldn’t be allowed to sponsor relatives to enter the country until 10 years have passed.

It has been widely reported that Reid’s amended version would make students ineligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Were that the case, we would balk at supporting the legislation. Legal experts, however, say the bill leaves that determination to the states, so students in California, which bases tuition waivers not on immigration status but on residency, most likely would be unaffected.

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Reid’s modifications served their purpose, which was to undermine arguments that the act would cost taxpayers. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office said that, to the contrary, the DREAM Act would result in revenues of $2.3 billion annually, mainly from income and corporate taxes paid by all the newly legal workers.

Negotiations are continuing. We hope the final product is strong legislation that serves to integrate the 65,000 illegal immigrants who graduate high school every year in the United States into the country they call home.


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