California DREAM Act: Giving Students an Equal Chance

Education is a right, not a privilege. Herein lies one of the major flaws of the American system and one of the reasons there is such a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Essentially, if all people were given the same opportunities to receive an education, everyone would have an equal chance of succeeding. Equality of opportunity—it is the principle that America was built on, and the principle that can make the American dream possible.
Unfortunately, the principle is very different from the practice. Before 2001, undocumented students who had graduated after spending at least three years in California high schools were considered outsiders. They would have to pay the outrageous, out-of-state tuition with no access to financial aid. That changed after the passage of California Assembly Bill 540. The bill made those students eligible for in-state tuition. The only requirement was that students had to apply for lawful immigration status as soon as possible. Is it a little closer to equality of opportunity? I think so. There yet? Nope. Not yet.
Californians realized that this wasn’t enough and are trying now to pass the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). The California DREAM Act would extend financial aid to certain undocumented students because, as mentioned, education is a right, not a privilege.
Nationally, of the 65,000 undocumented students that graduate high school, 25,000 are from California. They don’t have driver’s licenses, social security numbers or passports. They can’t work legally anywhere in the United States; they can’t join the military to help fund their education or lives; they can’t take out school loans and, right now, they can’t afford higher education.
Look around you. You can’t tell who wasn’t born here. We take citizenship for granted. A lot of the AB 540 students came to this country when they were young. They call themselves “Underground Undergrads.” They are all around California, and they are just trying to get an education. They clearly came here to live the American dream. Unfortunately, that’s currently not possible.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said it best: “In short, although these children have built their lives here, they have no possibility of achieving and living the American dream. What a tremendous loss for them, and what a tremendous loss to our society.”
The California DREAM Act is not going to help AB 540 students get into college. They have equal access to California colleges and universities. But what the DREAM Act will do is reduce the outrageous tuitions, so that higher education is financially possible for some undocumented students. Why? I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now: education is a right, not a privilege.
Unfortunately, the California DREAM Act has been vetoed by politicians who don’t think undocumented students pursuing an education is important. It doesn’t matter how intelligent the students are or when they entered the United States. Apparently, just because they were born elsewhere means that they shouldn’t be able to get the same education that you and I get. The Terminator has terminated all the dreams and hopes of these AB 540 students. It definitely shows where education and equality are on his list of priorities.
These Underground Undergrads will eventually be citizens, so they will eventually be giving back to California. Their pursuit of knowledge will only benefit America. Their future is our future. Their dreams are our dreams. But right now, they can’t fund those dreams without the California DREAM Act.

Sarah H. Bana is a third-year quantitative economics major. She can be reached at sbana@uci.edu.