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The DREAM Act; in the best interests of undocumented youth
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The DREAM Act; in the best interests of undocumented youth

March 8, 2012, 7:19 pm
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Time to bring wasted talent out of the shadows
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The DREAM Act; in the best interests of undocumented youth
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He came to the United States as a fourth-grader who spoke only Spanish.   Yet he became the 2004 valedictorian of his High School. He went on to earn a college degree and then a law degree at Florida State University. He passed the bar exam last year on his first try. But when he applied for admission to the Florida Bar, José Godínez-Samperio was stopped in his tracks. He is an undocumented   immigrant. The Florida Board of Law Examiners, the people responsible for bar admissions, has put the matter in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, because he is undocumented, Godínez-Samperio can't get a driver’s license.

And in California, Sergio Garcia, denied a license to practice law because he is undocumented, is awaiting a decision from the California Supreme Court. Sergio was brought to the United States by his parents when he was 17 months old.

 Now, another Mexican immigrant, this time from New York, has joined these two unfortunate twenty-somethings in legal limbo. Cesar Vargas passed the New York bar last year but has not been licensed. Cesar Vargas was 5 years old when he arrived from Puebla, Mexico, with his mother in 1990. He's now a 28-year-old City University of New York law graduate and said he is waiting to see how courts in California and Florida decide two similar cases involving Mexican immigrants. The DREAM Act would bring relief to these deserving young people.

The DREAM act is a commonsense piece of legislation that ought to become the law of the land. If it becomes law, alien students who graduate from high school, have no criminal record and entered the U.S. before age 16 can become legal residents, if they have lived here for 5 years. They will be given the opportunity to earn conditional legal status by serving 2 years in the military or completing 2 years of college.

Foreign-born students represent a significant and growing percentage of the current student population.  Unfortunately, immigration status and barriers to higher education contribute to a higher-than-average high dropout rate, which costs taxpayers and the economy billions of dollars each year.  The DREAM Act would eliminate these barriers for many students, and the DREAM Act’s high school graduation requirement would provide a powerful incentive for students who might otherwise drop out to stay in school and graduate.

Enabling 800,000 immigrant students access to higher education would go a long way in inspiring other immigrant youth to strive for a college education. This will help boost the number of high skilled American-raised workers.  As they take their place in the workplace as hard working, taxpaying Americans, they will contribute a lifetime of revenues at the local, state and federal level.

Americans recognize that these young people did not break the law, and that deporting them would deprive the country of talented and valuable human capital that could be put to work in the military or civilian sector where they will become productive tax-paying workers, a result that is preferred to keeping them in the limbo of undocumented existence that makes them unemployable and robs the country of their talents and potential.

A national poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for First Focus in June 2010, shows that support for DREAM  cuts across regional and party lines with 70 percent overall support, 60% support from Republicans and 80% support from Democrats. University presidents and educational associations, as well as military recruiters, business and religious leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

Whatever blame can be laid to the parents of minors brought to the United States illegally, is not reason enough to punish  children who were brought here when they were too young to have a say in the decision.  We have long recognized that minors do not have the same legal rights or responsibilities placed upon their parents. Until a child reaches the age of 18 (in most states) he (or she) may not be legally responsible for his actions.

Government has an obligation to protect citizens, particularly their young citizens, form harm. This is the reason courts make decisions that are in the best “interests of the child”.  Because of this notion of protection, not even a parent can neglect or abuse a child without risking prosecution and termination of parental rights.

We excuse minors from contractual duties when they enter into ill-advised contracts; we keep them from buying liquor and tobacco and from getting a driver’s license. Children need parental permission for dental procedures, to get married and even to get a tattoo.  The Department of Labor enforces rules that govern the maximum number of hours a minor might work and the type of work permitted for minors.  The Labor Department lists 17 hazardous occupations in which minors may not work. And it prohibits minors under 16 from engaging in farm work.

The vulnerability of children and their limited role in decision making is reason enough for politicians to get on board and do what is in the best interests of these children. That, ultimately, is also in the best interests of the country, and is the least the government can do to fulfill its role as protector of the nation's youth.


















Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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