by Félix Pérez
Never mind the long-winded remarks from members of Congress and the twists and turns of the law-making process. For educators such as Lee Carlson of St. James, Minnesota, the congressional debate about immigration reform boils down to one overriding concern: providing a future to hardworking students for whom America is the only home they have ever known.
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Carlson described the struggles of a “gifted and dedicated” student who wanted nothing more than to pursue her dream of a college education. “She was our Homecoming Queen, in the National Honor Society, and involved in extracurricular sports and arts.” Her saving grace for the time being: the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that gives qualified DREAMer students temporary legal residency so they can study and work.
The bipartisan immigration reform bill currently in the Senate provides DREAMer students a five-year road map to citizenship and emphasizes family unification. Non-DREAMers — individuals in the United States prior to December 31, 2011 — will have a 13-year pathway to citizenship provided they pass a background check, show a grasp of basic English, and pay any assessed tax liability, fees and a $500 fine.
The full Senate is expected to take up the bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, next month. The legislation marks the first comprehensive reform of the nation’s patchwork immigration system in more than 25 years.
The time is now for reform, says Mary Bonnie Bray, a Los Angeles high school teacher. Bray said the country cannot afford to waste the “infinite potential” of former students of hers like Griselda.
Fluent in three languages, Griselda earned top grades in high school while working as a seamstress. “When I asked her which university she was going to attend, she sadly answered, ‘I plan to keep working as a seamstress. With no papers, I can’t go to an American university. I dream of becoming a teacher, but I probably will always be a seamstress.’ ”
Nearly 60,000 DREAMer students graduate from U.S. high schools every year.