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‘Undocumented’ in the United States dare to DREAM

Momentum is building in the US higher education community in support of a piece of federal legislation known as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2009). The DREAM Act would provide relief from deportation and other immigration penalties for some ‘undocumented’ individuals (that is, those currently without legal status in the United States), as well as access to certain benefits related to higher education.

The focus of the legislation is young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, who then went on to reside in the US for at least 5 years, and have completed high school or been admitted to a US institution of higher education.  The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities estimates that some 65,000 undocumented high school graduates could be affected by the measure and on 17 June 2010 it released a statement on behalf of a coalition of 25 national higher education organisations urging the US Congress to pass this legislation before its August recess. The coalition is a diverse group, including the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. The DREAM Act is also supported by one of the lead international education organisations in the US, NAFSA.

Immigration reform is a hotly debated topic in the United States, particularly in the wake of recent state-level action taken in Arizona (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe May). And while the DREAM Act is endorsed by a number of very credible higher education organisations and institutional leaders, many fear that such measures will only serve to encourage and reward illegal immigration in the United States, making the measure’s passage far from certain.