A panel of experts discussed the state of the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and the feasibility of the nationwide Dream Act on Monday at an event titled Undocumented Students, Unauthorized Immigrants, and the Future of America in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, hosted by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
The California Dream Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, aims to make financial aid available to undocumented college students.
The panel, moderated by Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute, discussed the financial and moral implications of providing financial aid to undocumented individuals hoping to pursue higher education.
“The Dream Act is about citizenship and equalization of funding opportunities to higher education,” said panelist Jonathan Wilcox, a speechwriter for former Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson.
The panel focused on the financial restraints the Dream Act could place on the government, the legality of the Dream Act and immigration reform.
Wilcox said the California Dream Act diverts funding away from other government-funded programs, which should be a higher priority.
“Every dollar that a state spends on one thing is one dollar less that it has to spend on something else,” Wilcox said. “Are you harming [undocumented students] by denying them other opportunities?”
Luis Alvarado, former senior advisor for Meg Whitman’s California gubernatorial campaign, said the Dream Act raises more than just financial issues.
“These are morality issues,” Alvarado said. “Should there be government help in which the government is an accumulation of all of the resources of a community?”
Undocumented immigrants are presently contributing to the American economy through taxes but are still being denied access to financial aid opportunities funded by taxes, said William Perez, associate professor of education at Claremont Graduate University and author of We ARE Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream.
“When we talk about whether we can afford it, we have to understand that undocumented workers are already contributing,” Perez said.
Perez said that with a high school diploma being a less valuable degree than it was 30 years ago, a college degree is a necessity for financial success in the United States today and that by denying students opportunities to pursue scholarships and funding, the government would be limiting the chances of success for undocumented college students.
“If we don’t give kids access, we give them a literal disability, because they can’t function in society,” Perez said.
Michael Varela, chairperson for Improving Dreams, Education, Access and Success Movement at USC, said with the growing number of minorities in the United States, it is only a matter of time before a federal Dream Act is passed.
“This [Dream Act] is a vibrant, political, economic and moral issue that all USC students should discuss and ask questions about,” Suro said.
Schnur said if students want to make an impact on the passage of a federal Dream Act, they need to get involved in the government.
“Protesting is noble, rallying is moving, but if you want to get something done for a cause like this, the way to do it is to get inside the gate. All ralliers are making their voice heard, but if you’re making change, you have to be inside the doors and make something happen,” Schnur said.