Last week the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, staged a ceremonial bill signing in order to highlight the discount in-state college tuition scheme that has recently been enacted to help eligible undocumented immigrants. There are now 16 states that have similar DREAM Act laws that are aimed at providing undocumented youth with educational assistance.
Although immigrant rights groups will maintain their campaign for immigration reform at a federal level, “2014 is going to be a year with lots of movement at the state level,” according to Washington-based United We Dream director Cristina Jimenez, which has member groups in as many as 25 states including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “The trend you are seeing here is to advance undocumented immigrants’ rights by building momentum at the state level,” she says.
The founder of undocumented immigrants advocacy group America’s Voice, Frank Sharry, has been a veteran of immigration policy debates for two decades now and he says that the turnaround over the last couple of years has been a dramatic one, from Mitt Romney trying to win the Presidential election by advocating self-deportation, to Christie using the DREAM Act to try to improve his appeal as a candidate for the Republican Party.
The objective of the DREAM Act is to offer a pathway to legal status for around 2.1 million undocumented college-age youths in the United States. Around 850 undocumented youths graduate from schools in Pennsylvania every year, according to The Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, “only to realize that their diplomas do not ensure access to higher education.”