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Column: Dream Act is answer to prayers for many immigrant children

Last month, like many other hopeful parents, I had the wonderful pleasure of taking my two daughters back to school. In doing so, I dream about their potential and about what the future year holds for them, evoking the power and opportunity that springs from education. And while all students settle into their classrooms, many juniors and seniors are beginning to dream about life after high school.

Unfortunately, it is the children of illegal immigrants who are weighed down by the fate that awaits them upon graduation. For these students, the DREAM Act is the answer to so many of their prayers. Its name, in fact, is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

President Obama has paved the way for these students to not only have the opportunity to apply to college, but to make it affordable. It doesn't create mandates for institutions to admit these students or create preferences but merely stipulates conditions under which students would be eligible for in-state tuition.

In Maryland, our leaders in Annapolis passed a local version of the DREAM Act, which permits undocumented immigrants to attend community colleges at in-state tuition rates if they attended a Maryland high school for at least three years, and if their parents or guardians filed taxes. Upon graduation, they are also eligible to transfer to a state university at in-state tuition rates.

This legislation will be taken to referendum in November as Maryland's first referendum on a state law in 20 years, with residents asked to vote on Question 4 (MD DREAM Act). While the eyes will be on Maryland as we take to the polls, we must do what is right in the name of education and our nation.

There is a sweeping trend in our nation that we must not ignore. There is a growing population of minorities, and locally, Howard County has already become a majority-minority county where the majority of students attending our schools are children of color.

However, we don't fear minorities. We embrace and celebrate the diversity that unites us and empowers us all. We are blessed to have organizations dedicated to representing minorities and their plight so that we can collaborate with them to create unique opportunities to excel us all to new heights.

As an African American and the only elected official of color serving in local government in Howard County, I personally value the emphasis the president and our leaders in Annapolis have placed on the DREAM Act. After all, America was founded on principles of generosity, service and courage.

We must have the generosity to care for those that want to create better lives for themselves in America. For those who wish to serve and protect our borders, we must value the sacrifice they are willing to make and be willing to offer a life full of hope in return. And for those who are courageous enough to endure the struggles of persecution, stand up for citizenship, and fight for their education and America, we must also fight for the promise America has to offer them in return.

One of the fundamental principles that should guide our nation is the belief that we are not to govern on the whims of our leaders or at the discretion of our parties.

As an educator, I believe education is the engine that powers our economy and our future. Without investing in opportunities to allow all students to have access to the education they will need to become our future leaders, we are doing a disservice to America.

After all, we hear constant chatter and read numerous articles about the economy. From small businesses, to the unemployment rate, to how we can recover from the recession.

Some assert that in-state tuition should not be granted for children of illegal immigrants, that we should punish those who crossed our borders illegally including their children who did not have a choice. I say we must affirm that our past does not dictate our future and therefore we should not punish those voiceless children and students who have a bright future and are our country's future innovators and leaders.

This is the journey we must take and in November, Marylanders will have a chance to become DREAMERS.

Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat, is a member of the County Council and a faculty member in Morgan State University's School of Education and Urban Studies.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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