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High Schoolers Keep Close Eye On Debate About Texas DREAM Act

Christina Ulsh
Students at Aubrey High School

Texas passed its Dream Act 13 years ago and became the first state to allow immigrant kids to pay in-state tuition at public universities. But it didn’t actually settle the issue.

The candidates for governor argued about the DREAM Act during the KERA debate two weeks ago. As part of the American Graduate initiative, we showed the debate to students at two very different schools in North Texas.

 Few of the academic decathlon and debate students at Aubrey High School in Denton have a personal connection to the DREAM Act. Aubrey is a new campus surrounded by ranches and farms—4 out of 5 students there are white. When it comes to paying for college, however, senior Rebecca Trissell worries that there may not be enough money to go around.

“We’ve been working hard and done it the legal way. The people here illegally shouldn’t be turned away, but they shouldn’t be able to walk in and get the same benefits that the rest of us do,” she said.

Sitting next to her is Monica Diaz, a junior. She argues that money concerns are trumped by the power of an education to lift families and the entire economy. Who cares about where a student was born?

“You can take away their house, their family, everything, but you can’t take away their education. So to deny those people an education is preposterous,” she said.

Credit Christina Ulsh
Students at Polytechnic High School in Ft. Worth

The students at Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth who watched the same portion of the governor’s debate sat silently. Attorney General Greg Abbott thinks the law is flawed and wants to reform it, State Senator Wendy Davis supports it. In a century-old school where more than 70% of the students are Latino, the DREAM Act is not theoretical.

“I’ve been here since I was 2. I honestly see progress in me. I see my future here. I want my future here-- go to college here,” said one sophomore girl.

She dreams of studying sports medicine or zoology after graduation. She loves being on the sidelines during Polytechnic football and soccer games, helping players who get dehydrated or injured. Even with the Texas DREAM Act, she said she faces some limitations.

“The people who were born here get Medicaid, CHIP, and health care services.  The DREAM Act people don’t even get that. They barely get permission to be here to get a job and go to school, and that’s pretty much it,” she said.

While the Texas DREAM Act is mostly a college tuition benefit, many students at Polytechnic aren’t going to college. Only 16% of graduating seniors have test scores in English and Math that qualify as college-ready. Another sophomore in the same class is already making plans to join the U.S. military when he graduates, and hopes the DREAM Act will help him down the road.

“Right now it doesn’t help, because we don’t got no jobs, but when we get bigger it will help us,” he said.

He is staying out of trouble and trying to get good grades, part of the qualifications to be a DREAMer. He’s not hoping to take resources from others, just defend the country and contribute to the economy in his new home.

Of course, state taxpayers have already invested in educating him -- and many other immigrant students-- in school districts as different as Fort Worth and Aubrey.