Hopes high for DREAM Act to pass
November 5, 2010, 4:26 am · Updated November 5, 2010, 12:00 am·
With the 2010 midterm elections now over, many students living illegally in the United States look toward the lame-duck congressional period as a time when their dreams might come true.
Last week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would try to implement a vote on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act during this legislative session.
The DREAM Act, if passed, would allow children born abroad who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents to attend college or join the military and eventually be granted United States citizenship if they have grown up in the U.S. As the laws stand now, undocumented immigrants violate civil laws by entering the country illegally or overstaying visas.
This act would impact students currently enrolled at Penn, including five known undocumented Latino students in the freshman class. Leaders of the Latino Coalition refused to comment.
The University’s policy allows undocumented students to enroll and receive financial aid. Their applications are considered alongside all other prospective students’ during the admissions process.
“Proof of citizenship is not required for admissions decisions,” University spokeswoman Lori Doyle wrote in an e-mail. “Students are admitted based on their academic merit and intellectual promise.”
According to Doyle, Penn overcomes the fact that undocumented students cannot receive federal financial aid by using private funds to finance their education. It is also a “longstanding tradition” for Penn to meet the full need of undergraduates originally from Canada and Mexico, meaning undocumented students from those countries are admitted on a need-blind basis.
This policy is consistent with Penn’s commitment to educating “the very best and brightest students from around the world,” Doyle added.
Undocumented Students Nationwide
Currently, many undocumented students nationwide are unable to attend college, due to their ineligibility for federal financial aid.
The policies of state universities across the country, for example, vary concerning such students.
Only 10 states offer in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. In most states, they are required to pay the out-of-state rate — except in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, where undocumented students are barred from attending state institutions of higher learning.
The undocumented students who are accepted and enroll in college, face challenges after graduation, as they cannot be legally employed in the United States.
Consequently, students either continue to pursue higher education or take up low-paying jobs, according to Tolu Olubunmi — a consultant with First Focus, a children’s advocacy group that campaigns for the DREAM Act.
“The fact that these students are unemployed does nothing to improve our tax base,” she said.
Olubunmi added that the logic behind the DREAM Act is simple: “To allow students to go to school and use the skills that they learn to better the economy.”
A recent study from the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles estimated that the 825,000 young people who would be legalized by the DREAM Act have the potential to generate $1.38 trillion in government revenue throughout the course of their working lives.
Activism in Philadelphia
“The fact that undocumented students can feel welcome at Penn is great,” said Maria Marroquin, an undocumented immigrant and president of co-founder of DreamActivist.org. “A lot of times we hear from people that we can’t go to college.”
DreamActivist Pennsylvania works with students at Penn, Temple University and Swarthmore College to campaign for the passage of the DREAM Act. The majority of its members are undocumented students “who realize that we need to fight for our lives,” Marroquin said.
Every year, 850 undocumented students graduate from high school in Pennsylvania, according to Marroquin. Dream Activist Pennsylvania attempts to reach out and offer support to these students through presentations at local high schools.
However, there is a large population of undocumented students that DreamActivist Pennsylvania is unable to reach. National Activism
On a national level, there has been a “significant growth” in the number of undocumented students who are trying to attend college, according to Carlos Saavedra, who is president of the United We Dream Network, a consortium of 27 organizations that are part of the student immigration movement..
Students from all backgrounds — not just Latino students — are becoming vocal about the need for change, added Saaverda, who was an undocumented immigrant from Peru for 10 years until he became a citizen in 2008.
Most of the 20,000 members involved in the United We Dream Network are undocumented students. While 70 percent are Latino, around 20 percent are from other regions, including India and Africa.
According to Saaverda, while many undocumented students keep their immigration status a secret for fear of being deported, there are benefits to “coming out” to campaign for the DREAM Act — including safety in numbers.
“There are 2 million undocumented students in the country right now,” he said. “There’s a kind of safety in coming out publicly because other undocumented students know that you are there.”
The DREAM Act
Olumbumi said many activists, like her, are optimistic that the DREAM Act will be passed in the next few months, because the act has “very strong bipartisan support.” She cited the fact that there are 39 co-sponsors in the Senate and 127 sponsors in the House of Representatives.
“It’s an important piece of legislation that is supported by 78 percent of Latino voters,” she said. “The DREAM Act lives up to the American belief that no child’s future should be restricted to their race or class.”