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What the DREAM Act Means for K-12 Students

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As an immigrant who was born in Ecuador and educated in the United States, I’ve lived the experience of being a Latino student in this country. As a reporter who covered Latino communities and education issues for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Associated Press and other publications, I’ve viewed that same experience through the prism of journalism.

And as a high school teacher whose classes were about 30 to 60 percent Latino, I’ve had an up-close glimpse at the problems Latino students face and the potential they can fulfill.

Now, as a contributor to Latino Ed Beat, I’ll be examining reports, research, policies and coverage of issues relating to Latinos and education and offering guidance for education reporters tackling those topics. I’ll suggest angles and approaches; pose questions and queries; and, I hope, spark story ideas and spur conversation for all who cover the beat.

I’ll also be welcoming ideas and feedback. So, if there’s a report you’d like to discuss, or a story worth highlighting, please let me know.

One of the topics I’ve been thinking about a lot lately has been the DREAM Act and the movement among young, undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and enter political activism.

The ongoing debate about the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and military veterans, heated up again when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote about being an undocumented immigrant in this New York Times Magazine piece.

Vargas said he was inspired to reveal his long-held secret by watching the DREAMers who are risking deportation to lobby for the legislation.

Most of the coverage of the DREAM Act and the movement to pass the bill, including this piece by NPR,  has focused on college students or activists in their 20′s.

But what about younger students keeping the secret of their legal status? About 800,000 of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country would be covered under the Dream Act, and thousands are still in the K-12 grades.

Many undocumented students don’t find out about their true status until they start applying for colleges or go to get a driver’s license. At a point in life when classmates are discovering a world of options, these students suddenly hit a brick wall. Their stories could make a compelling addition to the coverage of this issue.

Another approach would be talking to teachers or counselors who know about their students’ immigration status. What do they do? How do they view the issue? Do they find themselves torn between duty to their students and duty to the law?