April 28, 2010

Skorton Lends Support for Student Immigration Bill

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President David Skorton recently signed a letter in support of the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation which would provide assistance for undocumented students who hope to acquire permanent residency in United States.

Skorton’s letter was signed by eight other New York university presidents, including the leaders of the State University of New York, the City University of New York, Syracuse University, University of Rochester, New York University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Buffalo, and Fordham University. The letter was sent to the members of Congress to ask for their support for the DREAM Act — which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — of 2009. The legislation would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and permit states to determine residency for college and high school students.

“About 75,000 students a year graduate from high school who lack proper immigration status and for them right now they don’t have a viable way to continue on with their education,” Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr ’77, law, said. “They could be admitted to a college but they may not be able to afford it because they have to pay out-of-state tuition rates … This [act] will allow them to achieve the American dream.”

The DREAM Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-III.), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), would allow undocumented alien students who arrive to the United States as minors and who have successfully graduated from a U.S. high school to obtain temporary residency for six years. After graduation, the students have three options: attend and acquire a degree from a U.S. institution of higher education, complete at least two years in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher, or serve in the military for at least two years. If they meet these criteria and continuously live in U.S. for five years, they will be allowed to apply for conditional permanent residency in the United States.

“I’m a first generation American,” Skorton said. “It’s a common experience to come to a country from elsewhere as an American dream. We want to make the American dream possible for these deserving students.”

According to Skorton, Cornell is one of the most international universities in the country, with around 21,000 students, 3,000 of whom are not from the U.S.

Skorton continued, “It’s more about fairness and opportunity … my father emigrated from Russia. I was born here but I could have easily not been born here. My life has changed [because of] access to not just higher education but the financial aid that helps you afford education. We need to do the right thing for the people who are already here.”

Although the DREAM Act represents a stepping stone of easing the pathway for undocumented students in attaining their permanent residency in the United States, on-campus student organizations have coordinated events and activities to garner student and faculty support. El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a Chicano student organization, pushed for Skorton’s support for this legislation. The organization has put its efforts into this legislation throughout the past semester.

“The DREAM Act is contingent on education … I know students who go to class with us that live in fear when they go home. Education is really important in getting through life,” said Lesly Betancourt-Gonzalez ’10, co-chair of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán organization. “[The Act] will help educate the broader Cornell community. Even at an Ivy League there are students that have a different type of background that have to deal with things that people don’t consider. Sometimes you forget that there are students that the idea of leaving United States means that they never get to come back … When [Skorton] finally gave [the letter] to us, about a week and half ago, other schools signed on along with Cornell. Having that influence to show support for the students is a big deal.”

Yale-Loehr emphasized the impact that the DREAM Act would have on American education.

“Many of these students come to the United States as young kids,” he said. “They are just like you and me. To give them a high school or college education but then require them to leave the United States is a total waste of their talent and our money we have spent educating them. The DREAM Act would solve that problem.”

Original Author: Sandy Do