Janelle Wong is an Associate Professor of American Studies and the Director of Asian American Studies at University of Maryland in College Park, MD. Her research focuses on race, immigration, and political mobilization. Dr. Wong is the author of Democracy’s Promise: Immigrants and American Civic Institutions (2006, University of Michigan Press) and co-author of two books on Asian American politics. She is currently working on a book about the impact Asian American and Latino evangelical Christians will have on the traditional conservative Christian movement and immigrant political participation. Recently, PRRI had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Wong in depth about some of the 2014 American Values Survey’s findings on Asian Americans.
The DREAM Act, a piece of federal legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the U.S. if they attend college or join the military, is currently stalled in Congress. Yet it remains a potent political issue in the 2012 election, spurred on in August by an Obama administration directive, which granted a temporary reprieve to current undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children if they met certain requirements.
Now, Maryland voters will have the opportunity to decide if they believe their state should have its own version of the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges if their parents have paid state taxes and the students have attended Maryland schools. The law passed last year in the state legislature, but opponents succeeded in petitioning the law to the ballot for the state’s voters to decide.
Overall, 6-in-10 (60%) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college. A Washington Post poll shows similar levels of support among Maryland likely voters.
Religious leaders are rallying around their state’s version of the DREAM Act, a move that is consistent with religious Americans’ support at the national level. Majorities of all religious groups, with the exception of white evangelical Protestants, who are divided, support allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, including more than 6-in-10 Catholics (65%) and black Protestants (64%), and a majority (55%) of white mainline Protestants.
There has been significant debate over what the cost implications of the law would be for taxpayers both in the long and short term. A study released earlier this month shows that investing in undocumented immigrants’ education could bring $66 million in economic benefit to the state. However, the law’s opponents contend that it would result in more illegal immigration, potentially burdening schools and social service agencies.
If the measure passes in Maryland, it will be the first state to implement a state-level version of the DREAM Act. But given Americans’ levels of support for this policy, it certainly seems possible that more states might follow suit.