When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you'll know that it's too late to change your mind
'Cause you've paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you're still just across the borderline
Across the BorderlineRy Cooder, John Hiatt & Jim Dickinson
Across the Borderline is perhaps the most powerful of the musical border laments, even more stirring than Woodie Guthrie's immortal song, Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos). No one with an ounce of human empathy can listen to Willie Nelson's rendition of Across the Borderline and not be moved by the suffering and hardship that so many of our Mexican immigrants have experienced.
Recently, as I reflected on the lyrics of this song, it occurred to me that it could serve just as well as a lament for our nation's distressed student-loan debtors. Indeed, much like our Mexican immigrants, millions of young Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds have tried to "cross the borderline" to economic prosperity by borrowing money to enroll in our nation's colleges. And like our Mexican immigrants, many college students have paid a high price only to see their dreams slip away and to wind up "just across the borderline" with thousands of dollars of student-loan debt that they are unable to repay.
Ten million Americans have defaulted on their student loans or are delinquent in their loan payments. Another 4 million have signed up for long-term repayment plans that can last up to 25 years. And about 9 million have gotten deferments or forbearances that give them only temporary relief from making loan payments while the interest on their indebtedness piles up month by month.
Why haven't our politicians addressed this calamity?
I'll tell you why. We've become a nation run by oligarchs who are making money on the federal student loan program. The private equity groups who own most of the for-profit colleges are getting rich. Our public universities are feasting off of Pell grant money and student loans, and they get their federal dollars whether or not students benefit from their college experiences. Our politicians are getting campaign contributions from the people who who want to preserve the status quo, and so-called non-profit corporations are collecting big fees to manage loan portfolios stuffed with promissory notes signed by 41 million student-loan debtors.
In fact, our nation's distressed student-loan debtors are treated exactly like undocumented immigrants. Both are derided as scofflaws and deadbeats, even though most of these people want nothing more than to be productive and to make a decent living for their families. And both groups are exploited. Undocumented immigrants are working in the construction trades and the hospitality industry for substandard wages, and college students are borrowing millions in order to pay exorbitant tuition fees to get education and training that doesn't lead to good jobs.
Both groups cry out for justice. But they won't get justice because too many powerful people like things just they way they are.
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