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SALT LAKE CITY -- In search for a better life, a married couple with their 2-year-old child crosses the United States border illegally. The couple made the decision to break laws that could have dangerous implications in their life; however, the situation appeared worth the risk.
But at the heart of the issue is the couple's 2-year-old child who will be forced to bear the burden for breaking the law. The situation is not usual for many people who bring young children into the United States illegally, and has been the subject of debate for more than a decade.
In the CNN Republican debate on Sept. 12, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was criticized for his state's law that gives in- state tuition to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as a minor. The Texas law was patterned after the federally proposed legislation Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or more commonly known as the DREAM Act.
The federal legislation, which was originally introduced to Congress on Aug. 1, 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch as a co- sponsor to the bill, was meant to address the growing tuition problem -- among other things -- for undocumented immigrants that came to the United States at a young age. The legislation was intended to encourage undocumented immigrant students to attend institutions of higher learning without having to pay higher tuition rates because their legal residency cannot be obtained.
Several states in the Union, including Utah, already offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant children; however, students still have the issue with getting better jobs and securing legal residency. Making the next step to citizenship would only increase tax revenue for each state and the nation as a whole.
In general terms, the DREAM Act would grant legal citizenship to undocumented immigrant children who graduate from high school or obtain a GED and then complete at least two years or more of college or serve in the U.S. military.
Proponents contend the legislation is necessary to help improve education, job growth and economic prosperity for children brought to the U.S. Most children brought to the United States were at a very young age when they immigrated to the country, having little ties to their native land. Additionally, the minor children came to the U.S. by obeying their parents and were forced to break U.S. immigration laws.
Children who came to the U.S. at a young age, proponents say, generally associate more with American ideals and the American way of life, as a result of living in the country for most of their life. Passing legislation similar to the DREAM Act for undocumented immigrant children is a low- risk, high-return for American citizens.
"In the state of Texas, if you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there," Perry said at the CNN debate. "No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that's what we've done in the state of Texas."
"I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole," added Perry.
I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.
Opponents, however, contend DREAM Act legislation creates a safe haven for illegal immigration to the U.S. The enactment of such legislation, opponents say, would encourage equal rights to education for undocumented immigrant children, whose parents broke federal laws to get into the country.
As a vocal opponent to the Texas law and the DREAM Act in general, Rep. Michele Bachmann recently said: "I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United State worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws."
But Rep. Bachmann's statement fails to consider the situation of the young child that was brought to the United States illegally. Should a 2-year-old child pay for the actions of the parents? Did the child break the law?
Former Sen. Rick Santorum added to the debate, saying: "What Governor Perry's done is he provided in-state tuition for -- for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote -- I mean, the Latino voters."
However, in an interview with USA Today last week, former President Bill Clinton came to Perry's defense, saying: "It makes my skin crawl when (Republican candidates) attack Rick Perry for one of the best things he did. What would they like? Would they like the kid to stand on a corner and sell dope or something?"
- Access to greater educational opportunities and better jobs
- Would allow legalized immigrants to invest in the U.S. economy
- Would save taxpayers money
- Would likely reduce the drop-out rate
- Keeps talented students in the United States
- Would help universities
Source: Immigration Policy Center
According to the Immigration Policy Center, "approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, many at the top of their classes, but cannot go to college, join the military, work, or otherwise pursue their dreams" because they have no legal residence. The IPC estimates the DREAM Act would grant citizenship to 114,000 undocumented immigrants who have already earned an associate degree or equivalent. More than 612,000 students who have already graduated high school would be eligible and more likely attend college to gain legal residency.
A study conducted by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center found the DREAM Act to be beneficial for all American citizens by providing more educational opportunities, which means better jobs and more income taxed. The study estimates that approximately $1.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion would be injected into the economy if undocumented immigrant children had access to education and better jobs.
And the economy is what every Republican candidate is looking to improve by decreasing the unemployment rate and promoting economic prosperity. Granting citizenship to undocumented immigrant children who are working toward higher education and better jobs helps the economy grow, instead of keeping the legal status of the immigrant children in question, which takes away from the government.