California Dreamin' Becomes A Reality, But Is It Enough?

August 12, 2011

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

Immigrant rights groups rally in California
© J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images

Just two weeks ago Governor Brown signed into law California DREAM Act AB 130, allowing undocumented students, who studied at least three years in California high schools or have an equivalent high school degree, to be  eligible for non-state private scholarship awards.

For the last ten years California has already provided students the right to access instate tuition, regardless of immigration status, as long as they meet the requirements set under  AB 540, which was signed into law almost 10 years ago and was successfully upheld by the Supreme Court this past year.

California advocates continue to push Governor Brown to also sign AB 131, a law that would extend instate funds for undocumented students.

The implementation of both bills will prevent students from being forced to decide between foregoing a college education and remaining in the US with their families and community or leaving the U.S. in search of an affordable and accessible education.

In passing this law, California follows the lead of states, like Maryland and New York, and stands in sharp contrast to states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, and Indiana that bar undocumented students from in-state college tuition.

While some of these state laws are encouraging, only a federal DREAM Act can free students from the threat of deportation.  This summer Amnesty International was notified of the imminent deportations of three courageous, dynamic undocumented young people and Amnesty activists.  Each one faced the reality of losing the lives they had built in the U.S. – their education, their families, their communities, and their dignity.

Amnesty members, student activists, and community members rallied the support of their state senators and federal representatives.  With less than 24 hours before her deportation, one of these activists, ICE granted the “DREAMER” and her mother temporary relief to stay in the U.S.   Unfortunately, another activist did not get any relief.  He was deported and separated from his grandmother, mother, and siblings who remain in the U.S.

ICE officers are authorized by Assistant Secretary John Morton to exercise discretion during the removal process.  ICE agents can consider factors like how long a person has lived in the US, whether she entered the country as a young child, whether she is pursuing a higher education, and whether she meets the agency’s enforcement priorities.  While Morton’s guidance rightly opens a door for some, many young people do not have the benefit of high-profile campaigns to garner support or guarantee that ICE fairly reviews their cases.

Only unambiguous legislative action, such as the DREAM Act (H.R. 1842 / S. 952), will bolster the human rights of thousands of young people who have lived and studied in the U.S. for most of their lives.  DREAMers face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of exposure to immigration authorities, and arbitrary detention and deportation regardless of their long-time ties to the U.S.  By providing an avenue to acquire legal status, students have increased protections from human rights abuses.

In a letter of support to Senator Durbin’s introduction of the Dream Act, Amnesty International USA wrote:

It is the responsibility of the U.S., regardless of the legal status of the immigrant, to ensure that fundamental human rights norms are adhered to and that all immigrants are treated with dignity… Passage of The DREAM Act would demonstrate that the U.S. Congress and the President recognize that children cannot be held responsible for the decisions of their parents, and that the “choice” made by many immigrant parents, living in poverty in their home countries, is a life and death decision, and not the result of an intent to break U.S. law.

The DREAM Act will not only protect the rights of young people, but also ensure that our country continues to benefit from the great contributions of these young women and men who have been raised, educated, and nourished in the United States.

Update: On October 8, 2011 Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 131, the second part of the California DREAM Act, now allowing all students regardless of authorization to be in the United States to apply for state financial aid.  This law stands apart from laws passed in places like Arizona and Alabama that seek to systematically deprive migrants and students of their basic human rights: the right to human dignity, to an education, to due process and to be free from discrimination.