Since July 1, 2013, children of undocumented immigrants in Minnesota have had the unique opportunity to pursue higher education after high school. Under the Minnesota Dream Act (part of the omnibus Higher Education Appropriations bill), undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, state financial aid for students who meet state residency requirements, and privately funded financial aid through public colleges and universities if they have met all of the following criteria.
- Attended a Minnesota high school for at least 3 years
- Graduated from a Minnesota high school or earned a GED in Minnesota
- Registered with the U.S. Selective Service (applies only to males 18 to 25 years old)
- Provide documentation to show they have applied for lawful immigration status but only if a federal process exists for a student to do so. Yet, there is currently not a federal process in place, so this documentation is not currently required.
In passing the Dream Act, Minnesota became one of just four states to offer undocumented students financial aid.
Supporters say that a variety of social and economic benefits result from implementation of the Dream Act. Mariano Espinoza, an outreach worker for the city of Minneapolis, rallied at the Minnesota Capital last year for the passing of the Dream Act. Said Espinoza:
“The future is better for all of us in Minnesota when we have more professionals and we are able to compete with the world.”
Many private companies like Microsoft support the Dream Act as it enables more students to enter into high-skilled careers, growing Minnesota’s talent pool. The Department of Defense has even recommended the passing of the Dream Act at the federal level in order to “shape and maintain a mission-ready all volunteer force.”
Critics contend that the Dream Act is more dangerous than anything, as it decriminalizes undocumented immigration and arguably encourages more of it. Many have claimed that it is ill advised to amend Minnesota immigration law without knowing what the federal government will do. Said Senator Julianne Ortman regarding national immigration reform:
“The state of Minnesota should not get in the way.”
At the federal level, conservatives led by minority leader Mitch McConnell recently voiced their concern to President Obama about the immigration “enforcement review” being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security. They said in the letter:
“Changes under consideration would represent a near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement.”
The review has not made any definitive conclusions, but there is some speculation of limiting deportations to only repeat immigration offenders with serious criminal records.
What must be considered is the cost of deporting undocumented students in comparison to the costs of implementing the Dream Act. The Dream Act keeps educated and talented individuals in the U.S. where they can continue contributing to the economy after graduation. A continuation of mass deportation is far more costly in the long run.
While immigration reform is an ongoing and complex process, it is important for lawmakers to recognize meaningful progressive legislation like the Dream Act that helps committed students attain a college degree, regardless of where they’re from. In meeting the eligibility criteria, students prove that they are intent on educating themselves and pursuing a career in the U.S. They are truly pursuing the American dream, and nothing should stand in the way of that.