Don’t Hate on the Dream Act

They break into our country and steal our benefits. This statement is harsh and unforgiving, but for many Americans who have a possessive and protective grasp on their country, it is a fair sentiment in response to roughly 13 million illegal immigrants.

I, for one, have an aggressive and occasionally zealous urge to defend the United States against those who believe American is short for an intolerant, imperialistic ignoramus. From the native-born perspective, kicking out illegals is as natural as tossing a criminal into prison, but there is a paradox that reshapes this supposedly simple issue.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 79 percent of Latinos are in support of the Dream Act, while only 30 percent of whites were in favor. The Dream Act would allow illegal immigrants to receive government aid for school tuition. Again, it is understandable, especially in our current economic state, that many would be enraged by the notion of the government giving aid to illegals. Yet, it is difficult to argue that illegal immigrants are not entitled to benefits.

Many will characterize an illegal immigrant student as a vagrants soaking up government aid, while their parents pay no taxes. Illegal immigrants do pay income taxes. It is estimated that they contribute 9 billion dollars when they use false birth certificates or social security cards to find employment. Yet, it is the demonization that all illegal immigrants are a hindrance upon society that is dividing popular opinion.

Where some see an illegal immigrant, others see a friend, cousin, brother or sister. It is known, or at least it ought to be known, that the many illegal immigrants are not fleeing their nations and leaving behind utopia. Rather, they are leaving behind severe poverty in search of that dream of American prosperity in a society where they are practically unwanted.

Anyone who has gone to Tijuana has been approached by eight-year-old children wandering the streets selling gum to tourists; it can be reasonably conclude that they are not trying to raise money for a school fundraiser.

From a Hispanic-American perspective, I don’t see one giant herd of illegal immigrants hacking away at my financial aid, but I see a co-worker and a friend working hard to make a better life for her family. A friend I have laughed with and who has embraced me into her home and life. This closeness has implanted a bias that is unshakable, yet I’m not sure I would want to shake off empathy as though it were a dog in heat clinging to my leg.

There are those who will say that the Dream Act is about refusing to reward criminal behavior rather than ethnicity, but in California, we pay for prison inmates to receive an education. I don’t think prison has become a motivator for college enrollment.

As for ethnicity, some Americans find it difficult to detach their ethnic identity when the majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. Especially when opponents to the Dream Act call for deportation and a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border; which leaves some to ask why not build a wall along Canada?

I’m sure Canadians don’t like Americans crossing the border to buy their cheaper prescription drugs. And who’s to say that in the future Canadians won’t try to charge their way through our borders?

And yes, I hate fictitious rhetorical questions, but the reality is that many Hispanics identify with illegal immigrants, and the Dream Act will garner support from Hispanic Americans because empathy is naturally given to those within their neighborhoods and those whose plights are relatable to their own.

Where I agree with the opponents of the Dream Act is that it is unfair that Americans must suck it up and pay full price for their future. This year alone the cost to attend a UC has risen 18 percent. It seems that before we turn against those who have no vote and ultimately no power, we ought to look at our government and our schools ask ourselves why our future so damn expensive.

Nidia Sandoval is a third-year history major. She can be reached at nidias@uci.edu.