A note on dreams and bilingual students

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The Dream Act has been floating around and through the media for years now. What exactly is the Dream Act?

The Dream Act is legislation designed to help young people who grew up in the United States , but who are trapped by their immigration status — or lack of an immigration status. Those lucky enough to be born here are U.S. citizens, but students born elsewhere end up condemned to live in a sort of legal limbo, limited by their parents immigration status. The children of the undocumented are also undocumented, even if they started kindergarten here and their high school has a cumulative folder inches thick that documents their academic progress. Currently, these children have no easy path to long-term legal residency, even if they have not seen their “home” country since they were less than a year old. Many of these children barely speak the language of their home country. Most cannot write that “home” language well enough to be considered literate.

Bilingual programs often group these children together. Together, they extinguish each other’s dreams.

“You can’t be a nurse,” one says to another. “You don’t have papers.”

Paperless children give up easily and early for the most part. Teachers can try to keep them on track, but the fact is that undocumented children can’t be nurses. They can’t pursue any employment that requires a background check. Yet 10 – 14 million undocumented persons are thought to be living in this country. Their children go to school. We have created a tremendous pool of children with limited hopes and dreams.

Eduhhonesty: The Dream Act should have been passed a long time ago. We need a law that provides a clear path to citizenship. Personally, I’d favor a combination of military service and college that allows immigrant children to earn citizenship.

We need to foster dreams in our students. Aside from the moral issues, the Dream Act would be extremely practical. These children aren’t going “home.” The vast majority of these children are going to grow old in this country. Currently, some of these undocumented adolescents are classroom management nightmares. They don’t care about school because they quite correctly see that doing their homework and working toward college may have little or no benefit for them. They come to school to socialize. They disrupt their classes and see no reason why they should do otherwise.

I can manage these students with pep talks, reminding them that the future may be brighter than the present. They may receive citizenship. They may be able to go to college. My life would be vastly easier, though, if I could honestly tell the aspiring doctors that they need to study science so they can be ready for medical school. By middle school, these kids know the barriers facing them as they attempt to climb into America’s cognitive elite and middle class. My pep talks are tough sells to an already-cynical audience.

A child who has grown up in the United States should have a shot at the American Dream. To quote the last few lines of the poem on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s lift the lamp. Let’s create the law we need. By the time these kids have completed twelve years of schooling here, they have become America’s children.

Let’s open the door.