Niagara Gazette — In Mark Scheer’s Jan. 28 City Desk column on the Dream Act, Scheer compares denying undocumented students a college education to cable companies denying current customers the sexy promotional deals offered to new subscribers. His view is that the New York state Dream Act rewards undocumented college-bound students — DREAMers — while unfairly punishing “our kids,” as if the societal impact of providing young people with a college education is somehow comparable to three months of free HBO.
This kind of divisive “us vs. them” rhetoric has been used throughout our nation’s history to resist recognizing the dignity of others, and we have always come to regret it. Let me be clear — they are all “our kids.” I could have easily been one of those kids.
Forty years ago, my parents came to the United Sates as political refugees from Uganda, under the threat of violence from Idi Amin. America was the one nation that welcomed us, and fortunately for me, granted my parents the legal status that enabled me to receive the financial aid I needed to go to college, and then to law school.
Today, parents like mine come to this country from all over the world for the exact same reasons they always have: freedom from oppression, the opportunity to work hard and prosper, and the potential to build a better life for their children.
Here in New York state, we have the second largest population of immigrants in the entire country. Immigrants comprise over 25 percent of the workforce, and they account for $200 billion in work output annually. They pay taxes, contribute to our communities and help grow our economy. Yet, their children are currently being denied the same opportunities that you and I had to pursue higher education and help move New York state forward.
Every year, it’s estimated that 3,627 undocumented students graduate from high school in New York. These are students brought to this country through no act of their own and raised in diverse and vibrant neighborhoods across the state. Our DREAMers learn Algebra and Chemistry alongside students of every status, every race and every religion. And, it should be noted, their parents pay taxes while being ineligible for the bulk of public services their tax dollars support.