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July 24, 2006

Access to education is at the forefront of immigration issues.  Undocumented children are constitutionally guaranteed the right to K-12 public education and each year some 65,000 undocumented children graduate from U.S. high schools.  For most, the celebration of this achievement is short-lived:  this important milestone also means that these young people have to suddenly face the reality of their undocumented status.  Many colleges will not accept undocumented students; of those schools that do, most require that they pay out-of-state tuition even if they had lived in the state since infancy–making higher education financially inaccessible.  Ten states have passed legislation that allows their undocumented high school graduates to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities:  New York, Texas, California, Kansas, Illinois, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, and Nebraska.  Even though education eliminates so many of the concerns immigration restrictionists cite about undocumented persons–can’t speak English, have no skills, have no prospect of economic prosperity, won’t assimilate–restrictionists complain of the burden on public schools and oppose making education more accessible to these children.  Virginia and Massachusetts recently voted down measures that would allow in-state tuition rates for their undocumented children.  Such actions create a self-fulfilling prophecy for, if we deny young people access to education, they will indeed struggle with skills, prosperity, and assimiliation.  Recognizing this fact, federal legislation has been introduced in the form of the DREAM Act that would allow undocumented high school graduates the opportunity to apply for a legal status to attend college or enter the military.  The legal status would then make them eligible to apply for in-state tuition and financial aid.  Despite the obvious benefits of encouraging immigrant students to further their eduction, the DREAM Act has failed to come up for a vote in each of the five years it has been introduced in Congress.  For many, the result is one of the greatest injustices of America’s immigration situation:  that children who had no control over the manner of their entry in the U.S. are closed off from the educational tools they need to reach their dreams and aspirations.  One reaps what one sows–how much better if America were to sow a generation of skilled, trained, and prosperous immigrants.