The DREAM Act goes even further: It provides a path for undocumented students to legalize their status and attain legal resident status. (See sidebar.)
There is also substantial work being done at the state level to remedy the unequal treatment undocumented students receive. Eighteen states are considering legislation that would end the practice of charging out-of-state tuition to undocumented students. (See "Immigrant Students Demand Higher Education," page 12.) New York, Texas, Illinois, California, and several other states have already ended that practice.
Passage of the DREAM Act is vital to immigrant communities and to educators who work with immigrant populations. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, seven million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States. And, according to the National Immigration Law Center, 50,000-65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. Yet many lawmakers, educators, and citizens are unaware of how difficult it is for undocumented immigrants to legalize their status. Some wonder, "Why don't they just become citizens?"
But citizenship and even permanent legal resident status are currently unattainable for the great majority of undocumented youth. The laws are complex and require expert legal help to navigate. The odds of legalizing one's status, even with the help of a good lawyer, are slim. Ironically, joining the military is one of the easier ways that undocumented youth can currently achieve legal resident status.
Undocumented students are caught up in this dead-end situation through no fault of their own. The DREAM Act would take the focus off undocumented students' current immigration status-after all, they did not decide to violate immigration law, but were brought to the United States by their parents. Instead, it focuses on immigrant students' academic achievements and on preparing them to become fully contributing members of U.S. society.