Higher education for all: The DREAM Act, DACA, and financial aid for immigrant students

Illustration by John Miller | The Signal

A screed on immigration

As we all should know, illegal immigrants have had a really hard time in this country.  Displaced by necessity, forced to integrate into a country that has been less than forgiving, their lives have been constant uphill struggles.

Of course, I’m referring to immigration in recent years.  We all contain the image of European immigrants pulling in on tugboats to the Upper Bay in New York/New Jersey, gazing up at the Statue of Liberty in awe as they prepare to make new lives in the so-called free world.

And though those immigrants have had a struggle all their own, immigration has changed since then.  Having gone through many changes, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, Immigration Reform Act of 1986, 1990 Immigration Act, The U.S. legal stance on immigration has become a bit more restrictive, for various reasons.

The Department of Homeland Security now has restrictions on lawful immigration, requiring immigrants to either temporary or permanent admission.  The latter requires application for a green card for eventual citizenship, which can take years.

But the reason people immigrate in the first place is usually more pressing than simply the desire for citizenship.  Sometimes it’s to escape violence, sometimes it’s for work, and other times its because family members have already immigrated, and this can render the naturalization process far too slow.

Many people view illegal immigrants as criminals, which the majority are only technically.  Otherwise, many are law-abiding, and certainly wouldn’t want to blow their cover by getting incarcerated.  So why is this the perception?

It must have to do with a sense of US national solidarity, which has its corollary in nationalism, which has its own corollary in xenophobia.  But that’s a topic for another article.

Most recently in the public discourse about immigration we have the the anthropomorphic potato known as the primary Republican presidential candidate calling for the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants.

While this is clearly insane, the comment was not seen unilaterally as pure nonsense but was instead met with polarized reactions from the American public, as if the ravings of an idiot could be in the least bit polemical.


But not all is mentally deficient on the state level, as there is a proposed legislation called the DREAM Act.  DREAM is, of course, an acronym (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), calculated to spell out the word supposedly evocative of that old concept “The American Dream.”

The White House fact sheet on the act describes it as a “common-sense legislation drafted by both Republicans and Democrats that would give students who grew up in the United States a chance to contribute to our country’s well-being by serving in the U.S. armed forces or pursuing a higher education.”

The verbs in the fact sheet are modal because the act has not yet been passed.  If and when it is passed, the act will, essentially, allow the children of illegal immigrants to begin a process of naturalization.

But one of its defining characteristics is that it will help those same children apply for financial aid for
college as a component of their
naturalization process.

Financial aid for illegal immigrant students

Currently, potential (undocumented) students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, but they might be able to apply for help for whichever university they’re thinking of attending, according to Studentaid.ed.gov.

And according to USA Today, some students have been able to fill out financial aid documents at their universities without putting in their social security numbers, and those universities were willing to help out.

In Georgia State’s case, students must provide residency documents, so undocumented students can’t attend, even if the applicants are DACA-status.

DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals allows for a two-year work permit and an opportunity to gain citizenship for illegal immigrants who entered the US younger than 16.

But Georgia State doesn’t allow for students with even that.  And a few of the other University System of Georgia schools don’t allow for it, either, as per Georgia’s Board of Regents’

On the bright side, DACA students are able to attend many other universities in Georgia, but they unfortunately might not be able to apply for their first pick.

And if and when the DREAM Act is effected, the policies will be more or less the same as DACA’s.

Potential students will still have to have immigrated before their sweet 16, and in fact will have to attend college or serve in the military for 2 years as a rite of passage for their naturalization.  Then, after 6 years of living in the US, if they haven’t committed any crimes, they get to pay some fees to finally be naturalized.

This is quite a lot of red tape for a simple education and naturalization, but I suppose neither of those processes is really simple, and it’s a step forward, since illegal immigrants of all ages have been deported without question in the past.

Hopefully, as a good step forward, it can be developed into better, more insightful policies that anticipate need within immigrant populations so that both their needs as individuals and our need as a nation can be met through the same calculated steps and not through ham-fisted, tyrannical promises from the festering holes of talking potatoes.