Higher Education for Dreamers After the Failed DREAM Act

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Dreamers have been used as chess pieces by political parties for years in order to gain the vote of Latinos during elections. However, these promises have never been fulfilled and instead the lives of undocumented youth seeking higher education have been displaced by the lack of congressional action to pass legislation to help them legalize their status. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act as it is commonly known as, was a relief that was aimed at providing undocumented minors with a pathway to permanent residency, thus allowing them to receive a higher education. The DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001 and has since been introduced several times in the following years but has never been passed. In 2001, the bill was introduced in three different occasions with some amendments to each new bill, however all three versions were missing few, key votes to pass. The term Dreamers arose in an effort to categorize undocumented youth who were were brought to the U.S. at a young age. It also stemmed from the idea of the American Dream which has led to the mass migration of immigrants and their children to the US seeking a better life and greater opportunities. This term has been adopted by undocumented youth and has consistently been used by politicians. In 2006, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, which included the DREAM Act, failed to pass in the Senate and thus died as both houses were unable to reach an agreement on the bill. 2006 was also witness to the largest protests in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform and changed the way immigration was discussed. Given that there was almost a Republican-Democrat compromise in 2006, how have states such as Arizona and New York grown further apart in their laws regarding Dreamers’ access to higher education?

Overall, given the shift that has been driven by the increasing political polarization, the loss of seats of moderate Republicans who were willing to reach a deal with Democrats, as well as the stalemate in DC, states’ policies have become stronger in a political vacuum.

Although Americans as a whole voted for more Democratic representatives in the 2006 elections, individual states, like Arizona, pushed back against this change in ideals and instead pushed for more stringent anti-immigrant laws. The 2006 elections led to a flip from a Republican-controlled Congress to a Democrat-controlled Congress. This came after increasing disapproval of President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq. In the 2006 election ballots, Arizona citizens voted to pass Proposition 300, a law which barred undocumented youth from being eligible for in-state tuition at institutions of higher education. In the first eight months since Proposition 300 passed, nearly 5,000 people were barred from receiving in-state tuition (McKinley), state-based financial aid, and rejected from adult-education classes. These numbers only reflect those who were officially denied, however it is not possible to measure the thousands of others who were discouraged from even applying to colleges and these programs as they knew they would be rejected. In their research, Ryan Evely Gildersleeve and Susana Hernandez came to the conclusion that “tuition policies have a positive and significant effect on the college-enrollment rates of undocumented Latino students living in states with [in-state resident tuition] policies” (Evely Gildersleeve and Hernandez, 12). Furthermore, they write in their paper that in a study conducted on undocumented Mexican youth who had access to in-state tuition rates, there was a “2.5% increase in college enrollment, a 3.7% increase in the proportion of students who [had] some level of college education, and a 1.3% increase in the proportion of students with an associate degree” (Evely Gildersleeve and Hernandez, 13). This demonstrates the devastating effects laws like Proposition 300 have on the ability undocumented students have on achieving a higher education, creating a better social capital for themselves and their community, as well as creating political power and increasing their political representation. Proposition 300 pushed many Dreamers to come out of the shadows in an effort to organize to fight for the DREAM Act and a comprehensive immigration reform.

Proposition 300 continues to be present in Arizona twelve years later, the law was never repealed, and its effects continue to be widely present today. In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court came to the conclusion that undocumented youth were not eligible for in-state tuition despite having DACA and meeting other residency requirements (Schmidt). Students who were already enrolled in college with DACA witnessed their tuition double and triple overnight with the court’s decision. Before DACA, Dreamers around the country were halted in their career prospects after graduating from college because, without a social security number they were unable to be hired. Instead, the majority had to resort to entering the workplace as blue collar workers in the construction and restaurant industry. DACA gave undocumented youth social security numbers which permitted them to seek jobs that fit their career prospects and their college education, which in many cases went beyond society’s norm of who an undocumented immigrant is and their prospective abilities. Despite DACA being seen as a relief to help Dreamers attending institutions of higher education, among other things, states like Arizona who consistently resist regulations that favor undocumented immigrants found a way to minimize the possible benefits DACA could have for Dreamers.

Among other steps taken by Arizona’s Congress to intimidate undocumented immigrants, the passing of S.B.1070 in 2010 was a law that brought further fear to the undocumented community. S.B.1070 was condemned by immigrant rights organizations, human rights organizations, and other organizations for legalizing the racial profiling of minorities, in particular of Latinos. S.B.1070 heightened the fear Dreamers, and undocumented immigrants, faced when they went about their daily lives. The effect this had on Dreamers seeking to complete a higher education began when they were attending elementary school, middle school, and high school and continued as they tried to enroll in college. Enrollment rates at schools harshly dropped because of this, and as a result hundreds of families moved away due to fear of this law. Not only this but undocumented students faced decreased grades as a result of the emotional trauma they were undergoing. This trauma paired with the inability to attend institutions of higher education systematically kept Dreamers as underclass citizens without any ability to achieve social, political, and economic mobility.

On the other hand, New York, as a state in general, has prided itself for remaining on the more liberal end of the political spectrum in terms of immigration policy. Though many parts of upstate New York tend to lean more conservatively, New York City is a mecca for different groups of people hailing from all of over the world. New York City became a sanctuary city in 1989 and reaffirmed its stance on protecting undocumented immigrants in 2016 with the city council passing a resolution to continue to make New York a sanctuary city (Fougere). The state of New York has opened up various services to undocumented immigrants, which in other states like Arizona might not be available. Since 2001(Dale) in-state tuition prices for undocumented immigrants who apply to public colleges or universities in New York have been available. Yet, despite having in-state tuition fees available to Dreamers, Dreamers were not eligible for state financial aid or for most state scholarships. The financial issue that attending college presents was thus not solved with simply having in-state tuition and Dreamers were left to find outside scholarships.

Due to the stalemate in Washington, Dreamers fought for six years for the DREAM Act to pass in the New York Senate to help alleviate the costs of receiving a higher education. On January 23rd, 2019 the New York State Senate passed the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act. The law seeks to “allow undocumented children, who are already students in New York State, [the] ability to qualify for state aid for higher education, create a Dream Fund for college scholarship opportunities and remove barriers that prevent undocumented families from college saving programs”. New York joins eighteen other states that have passed similar laws to allow undocumented immigrants to have greater and facilitated access to a higher education.

Policy changes like the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act demonstrate the pushback against the now ultra conservative federal administration. Similarly to Proposition 300, the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act is a defiant act to protest the current administration in power. Though both laws serve as a form of defiance, their end goal and consequential effects were very different. The discussion surrounding Dreamers has always been very controversial with both sides of the argument having strong feelings. Sympathizers of Proposition 300, argue that Arizona and the federal government, as a whole, should not be responsible for helping lower the costs of a higher education for youth who are not U.S. citizens. However, proponents of the DREAM Act argue that Dreamers that were brought to the U.S. at a young age have grown up in this country and rather than being foreigners they are just as American as everyone else. The only thing differentiating them from other “Americans” is a piece of paper granting them citizenship. Furthermore, this begs the question of what it means to be American, who is seen as deserving of a quality education, as well as who determines these things.

The conversation surrounding immigration and Dreamers is inherently linked to the perpetuation of systemic racism, xenophobia, classism, and sexism. The continued criminalization of Dreamers, and immigrants in general, has strong ties to xenophobia and racism. Throughout U.S. history there has always been an “other” that society has feared. Whether it were Jews, Germans, Polish, Italian, or Irish immigrants fleeing religious persecution or simply seeking the American Dream, upon arriving to this country they were seen and treated as outsiders. However, as a new wave of different immigrants arrived, the former were accepted into American society and adopted as such. The difference between those European immigrants and Latinos, which make up the largest percentage of immigrants today, is that Latinos do not fit into the Western, colonialistic perception of a deserving person. Consequently, they are criminalized for simply existing and working hard to keep the U.S. running.

Overall, the issues surrounding Dreamers and their access to higher education will always be present in American society. Americans have grown further torn in this issue as demonstrated by the continued stalemate in Washington. States have created their own policies that mirror the opinions of the majority of the constituents that have voting power in their states. The results of these policies as shown have can either have devastating effects or help Dreamers uplift themselves and their communities. This issue simply brings to light the greater issue of immigration, the criminalization of immigrants, as well as the concerning growth of the lack of bipartisanship.



  1. McKinley, Jesse. “Arizona Law Takes a Toll on Nonresident Students.” NY Times, January 27, 2008. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/us/27tuition.html.
  2. “Academic Benefits Denied to 5,000 Illegal Immigrants in Arizona, Report Says,.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 2, 2007. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Academic-Benefits-Denied-to/39329.
  3. Hernandez, Susana, and Ryan Evely Gildersleeve. “Undocumented Students in American Higher Education.” PhD diss., Iowa State University and University of Denver, 2012. August 13, 2012. Accessed May 1, 2019. https://www.hacu.net/images/hacu/OPAI/H3ERC/2012_papers/Gildersleeve hernandez – undocumented students.pdf.
  4. Schmidt, Samantha. “‘Dreamers’ in Arizona Are No Longer Eligible for In-state Tuition, Court Rules.” The Washington Post, April 10, 2018. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/04/10/dreamers-in-arizona-are-no-longer-eligible-for-in-state-tuition-court-rules/?utm_term=.645518192cf7.
  5. LEFT BACK: The Impact of SB 1070 on Arizona’s Youth. Southwest Institute for Research on Women, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program, James E. Rogers College of Law. The University of Arizona. September 2011. Accessed May 1, 2019. https://law.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/Left_Back Report.pdf.
  6. Fougere, Debora. “Can New York Remain a Sanctuary City?” Al Jazeera, April 10, 2017. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/york-remain-sanctuary-city-170403111551323.html.
  7. Dale, Frank. “New York Passes DREAM Act, Becomes 4th-largest State with Financial Aid for Undocumented Immigrants.” Thinkprogress, January 23, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://thinkprogress.org/new-york-dream-act-immigration-daca-andrew-cuomo-donald-trump-0713ee17b8b5/.
  8. “Senate Majority Passes The José Peralta New York State DREAM Act.” The New York State Senate. January 23, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senate-majority-passes-jose-peralta-new-york-state-dream-act.

Publicizing Private Partnerships in Public Schools

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The film Backpack Full of Cash discusses the damaging effects of the continued efforts to privatize public education in the United States. In Backpack Full of Cash there were multiple, diverse voices being represented in the film, however, one key voice missing was that of young undocumented students and their families navigating this complex system. Being that undocumented students and their families face an added level of barriers to receiving an education, it is disappointing to see that these voices were virtually erased from the conversation of minorities in the conversation of the privatization of the public education system. Furthermore, millions of undocumented youth are a part of the public education system and thus are consequently affected by the privatization of public education and failing to voice their concerns and the damaging effects this is having on them leaves a big hole in the understanding of the effects of the privatization.

The video’s filmmakers were effectively able to convey the stark differences between the multi-million dollar charter schools and the underfunded public schools. As the narrator explained an issue they filmmakers did a good job of discussing and using visuals to show the vastly different situations and issues each school was facing. These images were effectively placed in context with each other, evoking strong emotions from those watching the film. These contrasts helped create more emotions from within the audience. Additionally, as a student of color that went through the public education system for a part of my education, the film set-up allowed me to feel connected and able to relate to the issues being discussed in the film. This created a much stronger reaction to the film and the issues presented for my peers who came from similar educational backgrounds and myself.

Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash
Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash

Mondale, Sarah. “Backpack Full of Cash.” Backpack Full of Cash, Stone Lantern Films and Turnstone Productions, 2017, https://www.backpackfullofcash.com/