DREAM. What does that mean to you? For Isabel Castillo, it means to have hope for a brighter future that would offer opportunity for her to fulfill her aspirations. In 1991, Ms. Castillo was smuggled across the border at the age of 6 from Mexico by her parents. She began first grade in the local public school and helped her family sell tacos out of their home. Ms. Castillo continuously succeeded in educational journey; she graduated high school with a 4.0 and was very active in the community and extra curricular activities. A perfect candidate for college, she was unable to attend right away because federal student loans and grants required US citizenship or legal residence. That didn’t stop her from chasing her DREAMS. After a year, Ms. Castillo worked nearly 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to save money for college tuition to a university that accepted undocumented students. Three and a half years of continued academic excellence, Ms. Castillo graduated once again with a 4.0, magna cum laude, and a degree in Social Work. But, now what?
She was stuck again. It didn’t matter how hard-working, intelligent, educated, and dedicated she was; all that mattered was that she was “illegal” and could not obtain a job. She found herself in the same exact restaurant, serving the same exact food, in the same exact position she was in three and a half years ago. What more could she do?
Isabel Castillo is one of 65,000 youth who have graduated each year with very limited opportunities ahead of them due to their undocumented status. The majority of these students report graduating at the top of their class and had no idea they were undocumented until they applied for college. Most importantly, many spent almost the entirety of their lives growing up in the United States, going to school with American students, and identifying themselves as Americans. If deported, they would be punished for a decision they did not have the capacity to make, and moreover sent to a country that is foreign to them.
The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that has been reintroduced over the past decade, and as of 2009 was only one vote short. It was presented to legislation to reform immigration policies to give undocumented immigrants who arrived before the age of 15, have lived for 5 consecutive years in the US, and are under the age of 30 the opportunity to apply for citizenship under the condition that they complete two years of college or two years of service with the military. It would give DREAMers like Isabel Castillo the option to become legal citizens and have a bright future in their aspired career.
Why should we care, you ask? We need to invest into the future of our people. Undocumented youth are just as integral to our society and culture as anyone else. With higher numbers of exceptional students attending colleges and universities, drop-out rates will minimize resulting in higher literacy rates and lesser unemployment rates. The Center for American Progress estimated in 2010 that the DREAM Act would add $1.5 trillion to the economy over 10 years, a substantially higher number than the trillions we spend on unethical deportations.
So you say that it would hurt American students? That’s not true. The DREAM Act doesn’t give monetary benefit to undocumented youth; they still must apply for federal student loans and are not able to access federal grants and scholarships. So you think that it will legalize criminals and gang members? Again, not true. Undocumented youth are automatically ineligible if they have criminal history. Last but not all, you think that it incentivizes undocumented immigration? NOT TRUE. It makes the United States a multicultural, multilingual, and dynamic country that accepts all Americans.
Isabel Castillo still hasn’t given up on her DREAMs, and we shouldn’t either. While immigration reform has been put off for far too long, we need to force legislation to create new policies that don’t abandon youth of our country, but secure them as valuable people of Michigan and the United States. Take action! Call your representative and senators in Lansing and Washington and dare them to DREAM.
Alicia McCormick is a MSW Candidate at the University of Michigan