On Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed the Dream Act, allowing illegal immigrants access to state financial aid at public universities and community colleges. Just before signing the act, Brown vetoed a measure that would have allowed universities to consider applicants’ race, income and gender to ensure diversity on campuses. According to the Los Angeles Times, beginning in 2013, illegal immigrant students accepted by state universities may receive assistance from Cal-Grants, a public program that provided more than 370,000 low-income students aid to advance their education. I’m sure that right about now, some of you have flown into a fiery rage and turned unusually red and hot with steam ejecting from your ears, wondering where in the world the good people of California’s tax money has gone. However, think about this: What would this country look like if everyone who immigrated had more access to a safe learning environment? What if even those lacking wealth had access to books and unlimited amounts of knowledge? How much more developed and better-off would we be as a culture?
Money is always a factor in any decision. Money is power, money creates ability; a powerful brain is nothing if one cannot advance it with an education (which of course is expensive). Brown rejected an effort to make it more difficult to establish charter schools, as well as accepted a move to improve campus environment for homosexual and transgender students. He also approved a measure to restrict the privatization of libraries, making knowledge through the written word more accessible to all.
Do you see where I’m going here? The Dream Act is making education more accessible to the masses. By providing these students with the ability to improve themselves, they consequently have the ability to improve the nation and its development; they can then contribute actively to our society. This population should not be restricted to low-wage jobs their entire lives. If this is truly the land of opportunity, then these students should not continue to pay for their parents’ actions and should be able to move forward by developing themselves as citizens and well-educated, contributing members of society.
If anyone knows about how important a college education is, it’s we, the students! Additionally, if anyone knows about the perils of tuition payments, it’s students. I understand that educating these kids comes at a cost, but it’s worth it.
Many Americans will be disgruntled. In fact, Republican assemblyman Curt Hagman, a Californian, even went so far as to say that the bill “absolutely sends the wrong message. It says if you violate the law, it’s OK.” I disagree. This is bigger than California; this is a call to expand education and determine who can access it at a national level.
We must recognize that the challenges associated with illegal immigration are changing. We have people who have been in our neighborhoods since they were of a single-digit age, who have no other means of advancing themselves. This financial aid is going to young men and women who wish to claim America as their own country, allowing them to contribute to its development by educating themselves. These students should no longer be paying for the decisions of their fathers.
As Americans, we need to completely revamp how we are financing higher education in this country, and the Dream Act may be the start of this shift. Why not give it a trial run and see where it goes? America has been strengthened by providing opportunities to people from other countries and cultures. This act might open up doors and change the perspective on how America finances education for all. This new decision deserves observation and consideration.
The grants are not being handed out to just any immigrant student; there are reasonable requirements to receive this aid. Students must graduate from a California high school, having attended it for a minimum of three years. Students also must affirm that they are currently in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status, as well as display financial need and meet academic requirements. This bill will allow high-achieving students who want to become citizens the opportunity to attend college and contribute to America, regardless of their current immigration status.
The argument could be posed that this bill uses citizen tax money; however, let’s face it: How are these kids supposed to make enough money to pay taxes and contribute if they can’t even get a job that pays more than $5 an hour for the rest of their lives? We aren’t giving them the opportunity for a better life beyond the counter of a fast food restaurant. Fact is, if you are going to complain about a lack of contribution, you need to foster a chance for success and development. This bill is doing just that.
By Elizabeth Reeves