Congress will kickstart debate this week on a bill that could open doors for thousands of U.S. students in search of something we know well: a college education. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act aims to remove some of the barriers blocking children of undocumented immigrants from their shot at higher education. It’s time for this proposal to be put it into action.

Currently, children who come to the United States illegally with their parents cannot be granted permanent residency unless their parents obtain it first – even if they have lived in the United States since infancy.

any children of undocumented immigrants consider the United States their home. What’s more, they may have graduated from American high schools, in their American hometowns, with American peers. They are naturalized members of society who strive for the same American dream as U.S. citizens. Unable to continue their education because of a lack of permanent residency or forced to apply to schools as international students (a designation that deprives them of the benefit of in-state tuition at state universities), this community loses out under the current framework. In addition, they must face other extraordinary worries as they try to work toward a degree. During a panel event held at the university last year, one undocumented student spoke of the fear of deportation that incessantly plagues individuals in his position.

The DREAM Act seeks to alleviate these difficulties by creating a program of temporary residency for children of undocumented immigrants who want to continue their education. Under the legislation, students who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and who have graduated from an American high school or obtained a GED would be eligible for a six-year term of residency. During that time, they would be required to complete a two-year community college degree, complete two years of a four-year university degree or serve two years in the military.

Opponents of the bill claim the act sets a troublesome precedent of amnesty by rewarding illegal behavior. But the vocal opposition misses the point. Parents’ decisions ought not be the deciding factor in students’ futures – academic promise and hard work should be. Committed students who have made their lives in the United States should not be punished for their parents’ actions.

Other critics of the bill contend that an influx of immigrants will deplete American resources. A recent report by National Public Radio, however, contested that point by noting that the act will apply to thousands, not millions, of students. About 65,000 high school graduates each year are illegal immigrants. Of these students, only those who meet the DREAM Act requirements in addition to maintaining good grades, strong moral character or expressing an intention to enter the military would qualify for temporary residence. Simply put, the bill would accelerate the residency process for those who show potential to contribute significantly to American society.

Debate on the DREAM Act will begin this afternoon in the Senate. Now is as good a time as ever for us as Georgetown students to reflect on our good fortune. Is a college education something that should be denied to students because their parents came to the United States illegally?

We at Georgetown should embrace the DREAM Act, for it incarnates the principle that the university is a liberating force, a principle we can all attest to. America is home to the greatest collection of colleges and universities in the world and has been the champion of education. Congress must pass this legislation so that a college education will finally be a dream realized for tens of thousands of our peers around the country, rather than a dream denied.

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