Durbin, Hagel, Lugar: Congress Should Act Now to Help Students Gain Access to Higher Education

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) said today that Congress should act to help undocumented students by providing them with a pathway to legalize their immigration status and attend college. The senators have introduced S. 2075, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation which would allow states to provide in-state college tuition to undocumented students who grew up in the United States, and would also provide a path for students to earn legal permanent residency.


“This is about more than helping talented students pursue their goal of a higher education, this is about giving thousands of young students the freedom to dream of a future with genuine educational and employment opportunities,” Durbin said. “Without this legislation, these young people will have uncertain futures with no chance of continuing their education in America once they graduate from high school.”


The three senators noted that due to their undocumented status, tens of thousands of immigrant students with good grades are shut out of the American dream, told they cannot attend college without legal immigration status. The lawmakers said that many of these students had no choice in the matter, coming to the United States with their parents at a young age and have spent a significant portion of their lives living in America.


Such is the case with a young woman from Illinois named Diana who was born in Michaocan, Mexico but was raised in Chicago. Seeking greater economic opportunities, her parents brought her to this country when she was 6. Today, her father works for a remodeling company earning $25,000 per year and her mother is a manager in a fast food restaurant earning $15,000 per year. The oldest of four children, Diana will be the first in her family to go on to college.


Last year, Diana graduated at the top 5 % of her class from a Chicago area high school with a GPA of 4.4 on a 4.0 scale. She is an Illinois State scholar and the recipient of numerous awards including the first place winner in the Annual Design and Drafting Contest awarded by American Design and Drafting Association. She is an active member of her church and she earned the Youth Leadership Award for community involvement two consecutive years in 2002 and 2003. Her outstanding academic record, coupled with her involvement in activities gained her acceptance into some of the top universities in the country, including Northwestern University. Although she was accepted to Northwestern University, she was denied access to financial aid so she was unable to attend.


“If we allow these roadblocks to higher education to persist, we ultimately hurt our nation because we will deprive our selves of future leaders, and the increased tax revenues and economic growth they would produce,” said Durbin. “Young people with great potential and ambitions would be limited to the employment options available to those without a college degree or worse, they would live on the fringes of society and the law.”


Currently, individuals who were brought to the U.S. years ago as undocumented children and who have stayed in school and out of trouble since then have no way to legalize their immigration status and improve their lives. The DREAM Act would correct this problem by providing that upon graduation from high school, these young people — who have grown up in the United States — would be able to apply for six years of “conditional” legal immigration status which would be made permanent if they continue on to college or to serve in the military. The provisions of this bill are nearly identical to the version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year by a 16-3 vote.


The bill has broad-based support at both the national and state levels. Nationally, the bill is supported by a number of local advocacy organizations, including the Center for Community Change, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association for Bilingual Education, the League of United Latin American Citizens, People for the American Way, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. In Illinois, over 15 community organizations, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Latino Organization of the Southwest and Chicago’s Erie Neighborhood House, voiced their support Durbin's bill. For the past several years, the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights have launched a state-wide campaign to promote the passage of the bill. The coalition is comprised of 60 community-based organizations throughout the state.


Other cosponsors of the bipartisan legislation include Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Barack Obama (D-IL).