The problem with the California DREAM Loan Program comes from one major (and false) assumption – undocumented graduates will be able to land better paying jobs and consistently repay their student debt on equal terms with their documented counterparts.
Yes, the numbers may continually show that having a college degree increases your chances of employment. But to assume that better jobs will come to a disadvantaged group such as undocumented, California-bred graduates, who largely remain ineligible to legally work in the U.S., is absolutely baffling.
However, thanks to next year’s expected implementation of the DREAM Loan Program, future undocumented UC and CSU grads will likely face that very same employment barrier, while potentially shouldering up to $20,000 of student debt.
Compounded onto these problems is the reality of our continuously dim job market where young adults, documented or not, fumble and grope around for work that is not there. California’s unemployment rate, as of last November, stood at 7.2 percent; while its employment rate has only risen 1.5 percent since the beginning of our “Great Recession” in 2007.
As a result, more grads are taking relatively low-paying jobs unrelated to their major. This new class of undocumented graduates will face this same prospect, but under worse conditions. According to a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center, undocumented residents earn less than U.S. born residents. They are also more likely to be exploited in the workplace by being paid less than the legal minimum wage or being a victim of wage theft.
The undocumented youth of our country do indeed deserve the chance to make something of themselves. But the promise of federal loans, no matter how safe and secure they may be, means little without the prospect of long-term and gainful employment to pay off those debts.
We have no sustainable, long-term plans that guarantee naturalization for our hardworking, undocumented grads. It’s unclear if the federal DREAM Act bill will ever be passed and President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program does not give undocumented youth a pathway to legalization.
In the end, the DREAM Loan Program is an imperfect, temporary solution to a wider problem. As the Project on Student Debt suggested in their annual 2014 report, grant-based aid should be increased at the federal level to reduce growing student debt. That same aid should be extended to our Dreamers.