Illegal immigrants are already allowed to attend our public schools from the elementary level all the way through high school. The 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe ruled that public schools are prohibited from denying immigrant students access to public schools (Plyler). The court found that undocumented children have the same right to a free public education and are obligated to attend school until they reach the age mandated by state law. Since then, many undocumented immigrants have passed through the public education system. Currently, it is believed that as many as 4.9 million undocumented students are attending public schools (Immigration). However, it is difficult to know the exact number because of their status as undocumented immigrants. One thing that is known for sure is the number will continue to rise, leaving more and more students with undecided futures after graduation.
However, the ability for illegal immigrants to attend public universities has largely been left up to the states. Currently, South Carolina is the only state that prohibits illegal immigrants from attending public universities and colleges that receive state funding; although North Carolina and Alabama both prohibit undocumented people from attending community colleges (Coley). On the other end of the spectrum, nine states including California, Nebraska, and Texas all offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants (College). New Jersey is also in the process of deciding whether or not to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Although the states are the only ones to have passed legislation regarding undocumented immigrants attending public universities, there is legislation currently making its way through Congress. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, could bring about major changes. It was first introduced in 2007, but failed to make it past the Senate floor. Then this past spring, Senator Durbin from Illinois reintroduced the piece of legislation. Under the currently proposed DREAM Act, undocumented immigrant students would be given the opportunity to attend institutions of higher education and be able to obtain legal, permanent residency. According to the 2009 version of the Senate bill, DREAM Act beneficiaries must have proof of arriving in the United States before age 16 and live in the United States for five consecutive years since their date of arrival. They would also have to be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of bill enactment, obtain a high school diploma, and have good moral character (Dream). Any undocumented immigrant that reaches the requirements would then have the opportunity to attend public universities and possibly achieve legal residency. This piece of legislation is expected to bring some heavy debate in the spring and could bring on some important changes if passed.
One very important supporter for illegal immigrants attending institutions of higher education is the College Board. The College Board is made up of 5,000 schools and is best known for its SAT college admissions test. This past July, the board released a report citing a need for federal legislation that would provide in-state college tuition, financial aid, and legal status to many illegal immigrants in the United States (College). The report is the first time the College Board has spoken publicly about the...