What I Do
Christy McGill, Art Teacher - Divide Elementary School, Lookout, WV.
In 2010, the AFL-CIO expressed its strong support for the DREAM Act—a piece of federal legislation that would provide hard-working immigrant students a path to legal status. We noted then that the bill is about children who have grown up in the United States, attended local schools and have demonstrated a sustained commitment to succeed in the educational system, but immigration laws provide no avenue for these students to become legal residents. We also recognized that access to higher education will allow these immigrants to make even stronger contributions to our society, and decrease the number of those forced to live in poverty. Unfortunately, that bill remains stalled in the United States Congress.
Meanwhile, some states have found a way to help these deserving young people, by adopting their own versions of the DREAM Act. Those state laws do not provide a path to legal status because that is an area of authority reserved to the federal government, and therefore they do not conflict with the federal DREAM Act; they simply provide access to an affordable education by allowing qualifying undocumented students to attend college at in-state tuition rates. Thirteen states have adopted such laws. Maryland’s version is particularly important because it also allows active duty service members and veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition.
Not surprisingly, these laws have become a target of right-wing extremists connected to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the very same organizations that are leading the nationwide attack on collective bargaining and voting rights. Maryland is currently their bull’s-eye. An organization called “Help Save Maryland,” which links itself to FAIR and Numbers USA—organizations that have been designated “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center—successfully placed the law on the ballot for repeal this fall.
Protecting the Maryland DREAM Act is Important to Working Families
The failure of the U.S. Congress to act has left a dangerous policy void which the states, reflecting the desperation of the American people, are attempting to fill. Some states—Alabama and Arizona, to name just two—are implementing mean-spirited and punitive bills that make the situation worse, and which the labor movement has strongly opposed. Others, like Maryland, have adopted in-state tuition bills that bring hope and modest relief for a small segment of the population. We will support state-level efforts like the Maryland DREAM Act, but make no mistake: These are not complete solutions. Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.
We need to focus on creating jobs and repairing our economy so it works for the 99%—not on tearing down real solutions and engaging in even more partisan payback. We will continue to fight back against political games and hold all of our elected officials accountable for their commitment to do what’s right for our veterans, service members, talented young new Americans and all working people.
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