Seeing Dream Act kids as 'our own'

Helping a Maryland student with college is at least as wise as helping those from China

May 25, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

You have to wonder if any of my fellow Marylanders who want to repeal the Dream Act have been to a college campus recently — if not to take classes or hear a lecture, then at least to look around and see who's there. Campuses have plenty of "international students" these days, and more are coming.

I'm talkin' nonresident aliens: young people who were born in other countries, raised in other countries and, unless their parents sent them to the United States for prep school, educated in other countries. Year after year, they enroll in Maryland public and private colleges and universities and eventually get undergraduate and/or graduate degrees. Some settle in the United States, though not necessarily in Maryland, but many head home with their degrees and newfound knowledge.

There were 6,772 nonresident aliens enrolled in the state's public universities and colleges in the academic year that just ended, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. That represents 4.2 percent of all students and 9.4 percent of graduate students. At private institutions throughout the state — the Johns Hopkins University and McDaniel College, to name just two — there were another 4,211 international students, representing 6.1 percent of the total enrollment.

I realize that opponents of the Dream Act want to tear it down because it allows in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants — though only those who can show that they or their parents paid taxes for at least five years — but shouldn't they be more concerned about all these foreigners getting into American classrooms?

I think I posed that question as delicately as I can. But let me try it another way: Why should we be admitting so many "international students" ahead of many of our own kids, the ones we've educated in our public schools, K through 12?

Shouldn't we support Maryland kids ahead of so many foreign students who, without friends or family here, have no stake in the state?

The Maryland kids eligible for the Dream Act discount might have entered the country illegally with their parents, but they are "our kids" in a big sense — educated in Maryland's public high schools and eager to get into our colleges at the same in-state tuition rate their classmates enjoy. Instead of making them feel like outcasts — as if they weren't Maryland residents — we should embrace them.

"We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents," President Barack Obama said during his recent visit to the Mexico-Texas border.

I realize I'm making critics of the Dream Act unhappy again — and not because I just quoted their favorite president of all time, but because I'm asking them to think a little bit more about what they're opposing.

The last time I addressed this topic, I described how a teenager who had jumped the fence at Mexicali in 1987 went on to receive a Harvard education and become a brain surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Reader reaction was pretty harsh: The doctor should have been deported, dozens said, and Hopkins should be ashamed for employing him. The brain surgeon makes for a nice story, I was told, but what about all the illegals who've murdered, raped and caused fatal car accidents while in this country?

Several readers expressed resentment that a fence-hopper could get a Harvard education while their American-born kids couldn't. Here's a bit of news on that: Approximately one-fourth of Harvard's graduate and undergraduate students are "international," so there's plenty of competition already.

But let me bring this back home to Maryland, and to my question for the people who want to torch the Dream Act: Doesn't helping a Maryland kid get into a Maryland college make at least as much sense as helping foreign students do it?

We're officially all gung-ho (Chinese for "work together with enthusiasm") for foreign students as the state tries to keep pace with the global trend in higher education. Wallace Loh, the new president of the University of Maryland, and Gov. Martin O'Malley will be in China over the summer. Other Maryland colleges are recruiting heavily in China. Wednesday, The Sun reported a surge in Chinese students at the Maryland Institute College of Art. President Loh wants to send teams from College Park to play in other countries. "How cool is that?" he said at his inauguration last month. "Think of all the Chinese fans who could learn to fear the turtle."

Yes, but think of all the Maryland kids (and their taxpaying parents) who already do.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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