The Innovators of America’s Future: DREAM Students


Posted on 06 July 2011

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By Maryam Al-Zoubi
Campaign for America's Future

“I am Undocumented, Unafraid and finally Unashamed!” was the phrase that rang in Chicago’s Daley Plaza on March 10th, 2011.

I watched nervously from the crowd as my good friend Alaa Mukahhal, an undocumented Palestinian American, shouted those words from the stage. I was afraid for what might happen to her if she stopped living in the shadows. But, as tears streamed down my face, I know I was proud for having the strength to stand up and fight for her rights.

Alaa’s story kept replaying in my head as I sat in the first official Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security hearing on the DREAM Act, on Tuesday June 28th,  2011, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin.

Alaa is officially in deportation proceedings and her only hope to stay in the only home she’s ever known is for the DREAM Act to pass. We’re both hoping she gets that chance soon.

I call Alaa an undocumented Palestinian American because that’s who she is: an American, with a side of Palestinian, who just happens to not have papers documenting her residency here.

She may lack documents that classify her as an American citizen, but that does not invalidate her love and pride for her country. As Alaa puts it:

“Because of our status, I and hundreds of thousands of people like me are not considered American. Why? A passport cannot label me. I am a Muslim, an Arab, a Palestinian, and an American. I am all of these things together, rolled into the person.”

Alaa feels that her story may seem different than the millions of other undocumented youth because she is Arab and Muslim, and thus also dealing with the intense Islamophobia and Xenophobia that’s a sad reality in today’sAmerica. But overall her story is just like so many other young dreamers.

Alaa’s family is Palestinian, but she was born in Kuwait. She has a Jordanian passport, because the Kuwaiti government kicked out its Palestinian population in 1991.

In hopes of finding asylum and a home for their two kids, Alaa’s parents got tourist visas to the United States. Alaa was only seven at the time.  A few years later her family’s plea for asylum was rejected by the U.S., but Alaa’s parents didn’t have anywhere to go. In desperation, they remained in the United States.

In the face of the difficulties of affording college without federal loans or being able to work legally, Alaa went on to receive a B.A. in Architecture from the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana. Despite her many accomplishments and talents, Alaa is unable to get certified as an architect because of her undocumented status.

The debate around the DREAM Act revolves around three key issues: fairness, economic prosperity and national security.

Congress has no choice but to approve the DREAM Act, if it hopes to save the U.S. economy. The testimony during the June 28th hearing made this point, loud and clear. Senator Feinstein of California cited a 2010 UCLA study that indicated 2.1 million undocumented immigrants would contribute $3.6 trillion to the economy over a forty year period; if they were “legalized.” Two million undocumented immigrants who are between the ages of 18 and 34 could eventually become eligible for the DREAM Act.

Education Secretary Andre Duncan testified at the hearing that the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2018 the U.S. will be 3 million college graduates short of market demand, with 2.8 million jobs opening in high‐need fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Many STEM jobs are currently unfilled, but are desperately needed if the U.S. hopes to retain it competitive and innovative edge in the global economy. These jobs could be filled by many qualified and talented undocumented students. Instead, the U.S. is helping foreign students train at those jobs, go back to their home countries and compete against us. Why not hire a DREAM student like Alaa, an extremely gifted architect and graphic designer, who wants to contribute to America and the American people?

Believe it or not, the DREAM Act would help our national security. The bill’s language states clearly that only individuals with “good moral character” would qualify. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified, “These individuals do not represent a risk to public safety or security. Yet as long as there are no legal options available for them to adjust their immigration status, they will be part of the population subject to immigration enforcement under the law.” The DREAM Act would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus its limited resources on individuals who actually do pose a security threat.

Senator Cornyn of Texas, who seemed unmoved by the witnesses’ numerous rebuttals to his concerns, wanted clarification of what precisely “good moral character” entails in order to qualify for the DREAM Act. Margaret D. Stock, Counsel to the Firm Lane Powell on immigration and citizenship law, responded to this concern by citing: “The Immigration and Nationality Act 101F, which provides a statutory bar to ‘good moral character’ for certain offenses, and there is a laundry list of those offenses.” Offenses that would normally bar a person from becoming a naturalized citizen would also bar them from using the DREAM Act.

Cornyn also expressed concern over whether the DREAM Act would burden university systems. Duncan’s response was flawless: “Never in my life have I seen a study that shows college educated young people hurt the economy. It is an investment, not an expense.”

Duncan sees DREAM students the same way I see Alaa; they are innovators, the next job creators; and the dreamers who will move America forward.

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Maryam Al-Zoubi writes at OurFuture.org, where this piece was originally published.

The Dream Act is not needed. Anyone wishing to become an American citizen, should go through the regular proces, which, among other rules, requires the ability of speaking English.Why does the federal government make local governments to prepare ballots in various languages.If the person can legally vote, then he/she must have knowledge of English.

I disagree, somewhat. We do speak English in America... but speaking English is not the end-all be-all of being an American.

Being an American is a "dream"... it's state of mind. In the past, people wanted to move to America because they knew their lives would be "unfettered." They could pursue whatever goals their hearts desired, they could acommplish anything they wanted to.

The state of California has become a welfare state... make no mistake about this... the more the state becomes a welfare state, the worse the taxes get, and the more businesses will leave the state. This is how life works. We are a capitalist society. There is nothing that requires businesses to exist in America, or California for that matter.

When we burden them too much, they move to another state, or worse, leave America. In the past, we never had a problem with signfiicant welfare. It's not that they are lazy, it's that the concept of creating welfare requires higher taxes. As I said, this pushes away jobs. So it's a downward spiral. More people unemployed, and fewer businesses to employ them. We disagree greatly on the direction of our party... whatever we might believe, or whatever we might not believe... America is not a collective / socialist society.

We need to strengthen our borders, and remove the immigration limits that we've imposed on countries. If people know that they CAN in fact, actually immigrate into the US through normal means, they will do so. Right now, it's nearly impossible to successfully immigrate to America unless you have significant money, or a corporation that's backing you while you're already on a work VISA.

If you look at history, you'll find that the greatest inventors and tycoons in our time all started out as poor immigrants... almost every single one of them.

name a dozen . . .

Shoot... I'm not your do-boy. But there are at least a dozen just in the California area, or at worst, the West coast. Watching that new show "OFF LIMITS" with Don Wilder, I've already learned about 6 of them just from Seattle and California. All poor immigrants who came to America, and did amazing, great things.

There are many great immigrants and we should welcome immigrants. Now name SOME great Illegal immigrants? The ones that cheated, lied and jumped the line.

The DREAM Act is amnesty, and that is why I was always against the DREAM Act, but, I’ll give in to the DREAM Act under two conditions. First, the parents who bought their illegal alien children here illegally MUST be deported. Second, the parents can NEVER return to this country and the student can NEVER sponsor them or any other family member that would start a chain migration. The student will start the DREAM Act as soon as the parents are deported. This, I believe, is a good compromise. The students will be rewarded for something that was not their fault and the parents will pay for their crime of entering this country illegally and putting their child in this position. If you do not like this compromise, then the parents can just take their children back to the country from which they came. AGREE? If not, let all of them pack their bags and get the hell out of this country. They DO NOT belong here.

Illegal immigration is a cancer, it has to be eradicated not tolerated.