2010 Archives

What's the moral argument for passage of the DREAM Act?


The following appeared in the Texas Faith column in the November 23, 2010, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Professor William Lawrence, dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, provided expertise for this story.

December 4, 2010

Congress is considering the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to go to U.S. universities. If it becomes law, each year some 55,000 youngsters who came to the United States illegally as children or who were born here to undocumented immigrant parents, would be allowed to go to university after completing high school. Currently, the children of illegal immigrants can't enroll in college even if they went to elementary, middle and high school in the United States.

The issue of whether the children of undocumented workers should be admitted to universities and, if so, at in-state tuition rates is a hot one. . . Our Texas Faith panelists weigh in with thoughtful and provocative ideas. . . 

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean, Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Passage of the "Dream Act" is a morally positive step in the divisive discussion surrounding immigration.

Let's be clear. The places at publicly funded universities are available on a competitive admission basis, as everyone knows. While some fearmongers and demagogues might try to push the notion that a dependent child of someone who entered the US illegally could occupy a place that might be occupied by somebody else's child, the reality is that all young applicants will compete for admission to such places - their grades, leadership gifts, extracurricular achievements, scores on standardized tests (SAT or ACT), along with other measuring devices, will determine invitations to enroll. If a young person who arrived in the United States illegally as a six-month old happens to be a stronger applicant for admission to the University of Texas than someone who happened to be born here, it would be unfair to take that offer of admission away from the deserving young person.

With regard to tuition rates, state institutions and the governing authorities that control them set the tuition rates. Some states have a huge imbalance between in-state and out-of-state tuition, because taxpayers in the state are judged to be contributors to the revenue stream which funds tuition. Texas is in a rather odd place concerning this detail, since there is no state income tax paid by residents. Essentially, the tax revenues are derived from property taxes (which will be paid by property owners, regardless of where they legally reside), sales taxes (which are paid by people who buy things here, regardless of where they live), and other fees for services (which are paid by the users of those services, regardless of their legal residence). There are states that have a narrower gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition, because they are eager to have talented young graduates come to school in the state and continue to live as taxpayers in the state.

Education is an investment in the next generation of leaders. It is not a burden nor is it a revocable privilege to be denied those who have the talent to achieve. Passing the Dream Act will be a moral investment in the future of America.

Read the full Texas Faith column.

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