Let’s call her Felicia. The storyteller might be different, but the story is almost always the same in its broad outline. Each time I read the story I am haunted by the thought of the millions of other young people whose potential it represents. In the application essays of my students at Trinity Washington University, the story goes like this:
Felicia grew up from infancy in these United States, as American as any child in her classrooms — laughing with classmates, eager for parties, trying out for teams, dreaming big dreams for her future. Then, one day, a fearsome reality confronts her. It might have been junior or senior year of high school, a time when most American teens are visiting college campuses and thinking about which collegiate name will adorn their sweatshirts. A guidance counselor talked to her about “filling out the FAFSA” form to get federal financial aid to go to college. Felicia raced home eager to fill out the form, only to find her sad-eyed parents steeling themselves for “the talk” — the talk for undocumented young people, the talk that explained to her that she is not a citizen of the United States, that her parents came here years ago when she was an infant, and their visas ran out but they just stayed on. Some of the stories may be of a night escape through the desert and across the river, a perilous journey with a baby in a knapsack. She was too young to remember the fear and the danger; she did not know her status until the moment when she learned the hard truth that she has no legal papers and might not be able to go to college
Fortunately for Felicia, some amazing benefactors banded together in 2014 to create TheDream.US to provide college scholarships for undocumented youth. But the roughly 6,000 recipients of TheDream.US scholarships are a small slice of the more than 3 million “Dreamers” in the U.S. Of that number, about 430,000 attend college largely in states that permit them to attend public institutions at in-state rates. A few states completely bar undocumented students from attending state colleges.
“Dreamers” get their name from the Dream Act legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001 to provide a pathway to legal status for persons who came to the United States as children. The most recent version of the legislation is the Dream Act of 2021 (introduced in the Senate, with a parallel version introduced in the House), a bipartisan initiative that would give Dreamers pathways to permanent residency and citizenship.
Enacting a permanent solution for Dreamers is an urgent human rights issue, but also in the best interests of the United States economically and socially. Despite obstacles, some Dreamers have already earned advanced degrees, entered professions and are on the front lines of medicine, science and social services addressing the Covid-19 pandemic. Dreamers pay billions in federal and state taxes, and they contribute billions to their local economies.
Enacting a permanent solution for Dreamers is an urgent human rights issue, but also in the best interests of the United States economically and socially