GEORGIA FORUM

By Jerry Gonzalez

Seventy-four thousand. According to a recent report issued by the Migration Policy Institute, that's the number of undocumented youth in Georgia that could potentially benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act. These children were brought to this country by their parents at very young ages, and through no fault of their own are undocumented.

We as taxpayers have invested in their K-12 education, and they deserve a chance to go to college or serve in our military. These 74,000 kids are 3 percent of the 2.1 million nationally who could potentially be impacted by the DREAM Act. They deserve an opportunity to contribute to the country they have known as their home for most of their lives. The bipartisan DREAM Act would provide undocumented students the opportunity to become legal residents if they graduate from high school and complete two years of college or military service.

It's a no brainer. The DREAM Act is a tremendous investment, a great way to further integrate students who are already an integral part of our society and economy, and a great incentive for these young people to pursue higher education or military service. The viability of the DREAM Act is even included in the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Plan for 2010-2012 as a way to increase potential military recruits. Despite the fact that comprehensive immigration reform is truly the answer to our broken immigration system, the DREAM Act would be a good start.

Unfortunately, during the most recent Joint Legislative Committee on Immigration Reform public hearing, our state legislators who have the power to influence the passage of this critical legislation continue to deliberately overlook the facts and entertain the reckless rhetoric at the expense of innocent students. In fact, Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) has pre-filed a proposal that would ban access to higher education to all undocumented students in our state, making Georgia only the second state with such a restrictive policy for access to higher education. In fact, most states have passed legislation that encourages youth in these situations to attend higher education by allowing in-state tuition. These states are in full compliance with federal laws.

In Georgia, the Board of Regents has reserved a ban of access to the top five universities and colleges due to space limitations, but allows access to all other institutions for higher education. These students when enrolled in Georgia, under current state law, would be required to pay out-of-state tuition, which creates a profit for the colleges they attend. Their enrollment is not subsidized at all by taxpayers, according to the analysis done by the Board of Regents.

Education is a great equalizer. Despite the belief of Georgia Senator Bill Heath (R-Bremen), these young people are not "wasted space" at our institutions of higher learning. They are truly an asset for our state. Denying access to education to anyone who is qualified and willing to be educated is morally reprehensible. These youth are the promise and the future of our great state and nation, and they should be afforded every opportunity to fulfill their human potential to contribute to society.

The time for political posturing has passed. It’s time to lead and time to stand up for our shared values of an education and rewarding hard work. We would hope that our Congressional delegation would move quickly and support the DREAM Act with great urgency during this lame duck session. No one should dash the dreams of so many young people.
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Gonzalez is executive director, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 11/10

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