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'DREAM' Act would Give Young Immigrants a Chance at College by Sen. John Kerry The New Bedford Standard-Times

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'DREAM' Act would Give Young Immigrants a Chance at College by Sen. John Kerry The New Bedford Standard-Times

I'll never forget meeting Mario Rodas. He has lived in Chelsea for seven years. He is a star student, a community leader and a patient caretaker for his 4-year-old brother. As Mario says, "Over time, this country has become my home. My time in the U.S. has consisted of nothing but hard work and positive service to the community. "¦ I have always striven to do the right thing. I know that I have a lot to offer this country if I am only given the chance to do so."

But today, Mario faces deportation seven years after his family brought him to America and raised him here.

Mario is caught in the crossfire of a broken immigration system. He also is the reason we need not just comprehensive immigration reform, but to open the doors of opportunity for hard-working young people who play by the rules and want to live the American dream.

Students like Mario are why I support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2007, a bill pending in Congress to give immigrant students the opportunity they earned when they graduated from an American high school: the chance to get a college degree, contribute to our economy, and go as far as hard work and talent will take them.

The DREAM Act would restore states' right to offer in-state tuition to immigrant students and provide a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children who pursue higher education or military service.

Every year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across America. Just like their classmates who are U.S. citizens, they are hard-working and eager to live the American dream of self-reliance and hard work.

But these high school graduates are denied the opportunities that make college affordable for their classmates. Many have spent nearly their entire lives in America. But as they come of age, the message they receive is discouraging: You love the idea of America, but the American dream is not for you.

Currently, these students' immigration status stops them from accessing the tools that other students rely on to pay for the skyrocketing cost of a college education: in-state tuition, federal and state grants and loans, many private scholarships — and even the chance to work their way through college.

These would-be scholars and soldiers are American in every way except their immigration status. They can fight and die in Iraq but they can't go to college in their home states — what is wrong with this picture?

That is why we must pass the DREAM Act — now. These students and the values they represent do an enormous service to our communities, our universities, our overextended military and our image abroad. It is time to enable these young people who have spent most of their lives in the United States, who believe in our country and who have stayed out of trouble, to have a chance at the best the country has to offer.

Honest people will disagree about the best way to fix a broken immigration system that is neither humane nor effective. Some advocate for enforcement only — bigger and better fences to keep illegal immigrants out. Others believe, as I do, that the most effective approach also would address the status of the 12 million undocumented workers toiling in the shadows.

But gifted immigrant children do not deserve to have their futures held hostage to a Washington political fight. These children did not, as adults, choose to enter this country illegally, and have since proven their mettle by living exemplary American lives.

Simply building more fences does nothing to address the millions of undocumented families in America today. Part of the solution must be to encourage all people to study hard and contribute to their communities. The DREAM Act does just that by allowing students to give back to America and help make it a stronger and more competitive nation.

Last year, the DREAM Act passed in the House and Senate, but Congress failed to get the job done. I hope that we can finally pass a sensible and long-overdue immigration reform bill in the coming months, because we cannot let these students' dreams be denied or deferred any longer.

There is no better avenue toward living the American dream than higher education. Let's pass the DREAM Act and help make dreams a reality.


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