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Florida misses a chance to fund immigrants education through Dream Act

You never have to look long to find media accounts of young people from all walks of life who have chosen the wrong path.

It's a chorus of negativity that makes you question our future: A wild child recklessly shooting into a crowded night club, gang members causing mayhem on the streets, affluent adolescents, entitled and mistakenly believing they are above the law.

We shake our heads and utter something that begins with, "Kids today . . ."

The truer picture is that students on the right path actually outnumber the kids who succumb to society's pitfalls, but it is easy to take their efforts for granted.

Too often, we don't do enough to celebrate their successes.

Every teen who stays out of trouble, achieves academic success and displays encouraging promise deserves an invitation to a better life.

And that includes undocumented students.

The state Legislature had an opportunity to create an easier path for these deserving students this session. It could have passed a proposal that would allow them to pay in-state tuition, provided they attended a Florida high school for three years, graduated from high school and gained enrollment at a Florida college or university.

Known as the Florida "Dream Act," the bill is akin to the federal Dream Act, which would give students who grew up in the United States a chance to serve in the military or pursue higher education provided they meet stringent standards.

And like the federal Dream Act, the Florida Dream Act met with an unhappy ending, dying in a Senate committee last week.

State lawmakers could have sent a message that the content of your character matters more than how you arrived in this nation. Passage could have delivered proof that making the most of life's opportunities still garners a reward.

Fortunately, students who had spent a considerable amount of time in Tallahassee lobbying for the bill vowed to keep fighting — not just for themselves but for their younger brothers and sisters. Even in defeat, they choose class over bitterness.

In an election year, the students faced an uphill battle and it may not get better next session. A strong backlash greets almost every elected official who comes across as empathetic to the plight of undocumented workers.

Opponents demonize them as taking jobs from American citizens and a primary source of our economic woes. Such simplistic solutions, however, ignore the issue's complexities.

Just ask states like Georgia that adopted tougher immigration laws and suffered huge economic consequences because farmers couldn't find workers who could last a day, yet alone a week doing field work after migrants abandoned those locales out of fear of deportation.

In the context of this proposal, however, that's an argument between and about grown men and women. The Florida Dream Act was about kids — kids who didn't choose to come here on their own, kids who didn't choose temptation's easy path, kids who didn't choose to give up.

After they have overcome so much — adjusting to a foreign land, learning a second language, rising above hateful taunts — while enrolled in our public schools, they deserve an equal opportunity.

If we invest tax dollars in their grade school education, why change the rules for those who have displayed the potential to succeed in college?

We hurt our state more than we hurt the students with such short-sighted decisions. This should be a place to foster dreams, not deny them.

That's all I'm saying.

Florida misses a chance to fund immigrants education through Dream Act 02/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 12:53pm]

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