Pursuing the DREAM

Students risk deportation to rally for legislation

A future engineer or deportee?

They are computer engineers, business students and nursing majors. Like most Americans they are ambitious, hard working and proud to live in the United States. But they are undocumented.

On Tuesday morning, there were tears and rallying cries to push for the passage of DREAM Act legislation before the end of the year when a GOP majority takes over the House. About a dozen undocumented University of Texas – Austin students gathered on the West Campus at UT to hold a rally in support of the legislation, which failed to pass in September after a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

There are an estimated 258,000 undocumented students in Texas, according to the nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. Six UT students, and a recent graduate, risked deportation Tuesday by publicly discussing their immigration status and talking about their experiences as undocumented students at the rally.

DREAM Act legislation would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students who graduate from high school, arrive in the United States as minors, and have been in the country for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. They must also complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year university.

Julieta, 30, who has already graduated with a Master’s in nursing, said she’s unable to practice as a nurse because of her undocumented status. “I get by doing odds and ends kind of jobs,” she says. She was brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was 12 years old.  She excelled as a student in high school and university. She speaks fluent English.

Julieta is disenheartened by the recent failure of the DREAM Act, which has been introduced in one shape or form for the past 10 years in Congress. She was further disappointed this week by the filing of anti-immigrant bills, modeled after the recently passed Arizona legislation, by Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle of Tomball.

“Things have become increasingly xenophobic,” Julieta says. “The Arizona bill is a racist bill and there’s always a possibility that something like it could pass here.”

Julieta said it was time to speak up publicly about what immigrants contribute to U.S. society and its economy.

“I feel like we’ve waited so long that it’s time to come out publicly and talk about what’s at stake with the passing of the DREAM Act,” she says. “We want to contribute to the country that’s given us so much.”

Numerous studies, including a 1999 RAND study, find that the passage of the DREAM Act would significantly contribute to the U.S. tax base and economy. According to RAND,  a 30-year old immigrant, like Julieta,  with a college degree will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in government expenses each year compared to a high-school dropout.

Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, an author of the DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support, has pledged to bring the bill up again before January.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 8:52 pm CST