Passing the Dream Act Can Protect the U.S. From Another 9/11
We must distinguish betweeen terrorists and members of society
On September 11, 2001, I was a doctoral student at the University of Maryland College Park, just 13 miles away from the Pentagon. I learned of the now infamous attacks through a university messenger who interrupted a meeting on diversity initiatives I was attending to tell us the country was under siege, planes had already flown into New York City skyscrapers and more were headed to the D.C. area. At the time, I was knee-deep in my dissertation topic: should undocumented immigrants receive financial aid? As a plane flew overhead I knew that question had been answered for me.
Only two months prior, Orrin Hatch, the Republican Senator from Utah, proposed the Dream Act, which would have provided conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools, lived in the country continuously for at least five years and who demonstrated good moral character. The bill had bipartisan support and advocates anticipated passage in that session of Congress.
Shortly after the attacks, we learned that two of the pilot hijackers entered the country and learned how to operate a commercial plane while on student visas (15 of the 19 hijackers should have been denied visas).
The September 11 attacks make it clear that we must protect the members of our community and that starts with knowing who the country’s members are. Citizenship is the country’s formal recognition of membership. However, citizenship and membership have not always been in sync, particularly in the United States.
America’s history of not granting full rights of citizenship begins with women and black people who were undeniable members of society. By not justly granting the full rights to all members, the country created second-class citizenry. Discrimination weakened the social fabric and compromised the country’s strength. We should not let history repeat itself.
In the vigilant protection of our country, the first line of defense must come from the people who live, work, learn, and invest in our neighborhoods. Loving members will alert authorities of potential threats to other members. Educated members will contribute to and help build up a healthy economy. If the country doesn’t protect its citizens, members or future citizens, then we compromise our first line of defense.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates, there are slightly more than 2.1 million unauthorized youth and young adults who meet requirements for conditional legalization under the DREAM Act. However, most would be unlikely to meet the bill’s education attainment requirements. High dropout rates among poor Latinos significantly reduces the actual numbers who could benefit from passage.
Ten years after September 11, the Dream Act has still not been entered into law and Sen. Hatch no longer sponsors the bill. For decades, we’ve had thousands of undocumented students who did not enter the country under their own volition, but have been good members of society and are as likely to live elsewhere in the world as Sen. Hatch. The reality is that many undocumented students are future citizens and we must protect them.
By not passing the Dream Act, we miss an important lesson of 9/11. We have to be able to distinguish terrorists from members of society. The Dream Act helps us do that.