The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, was reintroduced to the House of Representatives on March 1, representing some hope for the legalization of many undocumented students in the nation.
Maria Rodriguez, youth organizer at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the DREAM Act is the best solution for undocumented students who want to realize their dreams and become productive members of U.S. society.
“(The DREAM Act) is a step for undocumented immigrants to become fully productive in this society,” Rodriguez said. This legislation should pass “because people’s dreams can’t wait.”
The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and throughout the years it has gained the support of 48 Senate co-sponsors. This legislation would qualify undocumented students to apply for legal status. Requirements include entering the U.S. at least five years ago at the age of 15 or younger, and demonstrating good moral conduct.
If the DREAM Act is approved, undocumented students would be able to apply for conditional status that would last for a period of six years. Within this period, the students would need to complete at least two years toward a four-year bachelor’s degree or serve in the U.S. Army for two years. After the six years of conditional status, the students would be granted permanent residency if all of the requirements are met.
Victor, a freshman business administration major at CSUN did not want to reveal his last name due to his legal status, said he wants the DREAM Act to pass because in the future he wants to open his own business in order to help students like himself.
“If I don’t get any documents, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Victor said.
Victor, 18, is one of 65,000 undocumented students that the National Immigration Law Center estimates graduate from high school every year in the nation, and part of the 5 to 10 percent of students who pursue higher education.
Victor is also one of the many students in California who benefit from Assembly Bill 540, which allows undocumented students with three years of high school completed and/or an equivalent general education degree to attend public institutions and to pay in-state tuition.
However, Victor, who emigrated to the U.S. almost six years ago from Mexico, said he has to look for private scholarships and depend on his job, and financial support from his family, in order to pay his tuition.
Rodriguez said students like Victor need support from organizations like CHIRLA, which has created an AB 540 network nation wide. CHIRLA has actively supported the DREAM Act since it was first introduced and is currently working on a campaign that educates and advocates for the legislation.
The U.S. would benefit from undocumented students because they would soon become part of a productive labor force, Rodriguez said.
“An educated youth creates an educated work force that leads to a prosperous nation,” she said. “Investing in immigrant students is like investing in the future of California.”
However, Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that has challenged the DREAM Act in California court, said it is not fair to grant legal documentation to people who came to the U.S. illegally because there are not enough available spaces at universities.
“If we subsidize the kids of parents who broke the law and we grant them green cards what kind of message are we sending?” asked Mehlman. “If you grant a (university) seat to an undocumented student, we know there is somebody out there that would not be able to go to school because his/her seat is taken away.”
But Rodriguez said that if the DREAM Act does not pass, the U.S. would not be able to benefit from the abilities of these students.
“The nation would be loosing out on talented and qualified students who want to contribute to this country,” she said. If the DREAM Act does not pass “a lot of dreams would be destroyed and there will be a feeling of frustration (from these students).”
Jorge Garcia, professor of Chicano/a Studies and expert on political science, agreed with Rodriguez that the future of the nation depends on these students because baby boomers are reaching their fifties and sixties.
“It is urgent for the future of this nation to give all the opportunities to the new generations because on them relies our future,” Garcia said.
But one of the obstacles that undocumented students face is that when they graduate from college they can not work due to their legal situation.
“We have students who are talented and who have a diploma, but they can’t do anything with it,” Garcia said. “The DREAM Act should pass because (undocumented students) deserve the opportunity to study, to work and to contribute to this society.”
That is the case for Joselyn, who also did not want to reveal her last name for the same reasons. She graduated from CSUN with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and she found herself unable to get a job.
“I graduated from CSUN and I hit a wall; there were no options for me,” she said.
Joselyn, a 24-year-old graduate student, said she, along with other students, are in the process of forming a group called Higher Education and Realizing Dreams. This group would support and educate students on initiatives such as AB 540 and the DREAM Act.
Joselyn also said HEARD would be an important group at CSUN because most of the students who are undocumented think that they are the only ones.
“Students don’t talk about it, so the group would be able to support them and bring them a safe environment to talk,” Joselyn said.
The only way that undocumented students would achieve their aspirations would be through the DREAM Act. These students struggle to obtain an education on a daily basis, said Joselyn, who is currently working on her thesis; a documentary about immigrant students.
“Even arriving to school becomes an issue because they don’t have a license,” she said. “It is hard to be a college student in general, but to be a college student and have the restrictions that undocumented students have it’s even harder.”
Gurrola, 24, said HEARD would inform college and high school students on the alternatives that exist for them and on the future they would like to give scholarships to undocumented students.
One of the main goals of HEARD is to be a social and educational support for the students, who deserve the opportunity to realize their dreams, Gurrola said.
“I just want people to become aware that these students have a potential that despite their legal status they have goals and dreams like any other student.”