November 21, 2010

Cornellians Rally to Support DREAM Act

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Chanting, “up, up with education, down, down with deportation,” approximately 30 students rallied on Ho Plaza Friday in support of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Passersby said that the rally, organized by the National Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA, was useful in expressing the aims of the DREAM Act as well as encouraging students to contact their senators and congressmen and convince them to vote in favor of the legislation.

“We have to do something,” said Rodrigo Monsalve ’12. “Talk to Congress, talk to your senators. A lot of students are facing deportation, something must be done.”

The DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, aims to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants who either complete two years of college level education or serve two years in the U.S. military. It has faced numerous Republican fillibusters, but has significant support from President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Pelosi, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

The DREAM Act would provide 2.1 million undocumented youth the opportunity to gain citizenship, according to the Migration Policy Institute, but the process of providing citizenship to each of these youth may take up to 11 years.

Fifty-nine Democratic senators in the current Congress will be eligible for the lame duck vote on the DREAM Act, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 29, which presents a more favorable environment for the vote than the 53 Democratic senators who will remain in office next term after newly-elected senators are inaugurated.

One of the rally’s speakers, Prof. Veronica Martinez, industrial and labor relations, emphasized the general public misunderstanding of undocumented residents and called for the recognition of education as a “fundamental human right.”

“These [illegal immigrants] are not aliens or people that you need to fear of invading your schools. They are your neighbors, your teammates and your friends,” Martinez said.

However, not every undocumented resident will be eligible for the DREAM Act program. Certain criteria must be met; an immigrant must have entered the country before the age of 16, graduated high school or obtained a G.E.D. and have no criminal record to be eligible for citizenship. Candidates must also have lived in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years and be under the age of 35 at the time of the act’s passage, according to the Immigration Policy Center’s website.

After living in the U.S. for five consecutive years in order to qualify for the DREAM Act program, the youth receives “conditional” status for a period of six years in order to complete the education or military service requirement, said MEChA member Jessica Perez ’13. Only after this six-year period may the DREAM Act beneficiary apply for full citizenship and permanent residence.

Nevertheless, the act has the potential to provide undocumented residents with the chance to pursue a legal right to remain in the United States as well as the chance to pursue a legal occupation once they have earned their degree.

“How many students would be here if they knew that their college certificate was void?” David Angeles ’13 asked the crowd surrounding the rally.

Approximately 25,000 students without legal status attend California colleges alone, according to the Immigration Reform Law Institute. After graduation, these illegal college grads have no career to look forward to, as it is illegal under federal law to hire, recruit or refer an “unauthorized alien.”

“Graduation is both a sad and happy day for [undocumented graduates] — happy because they have earned their bachelors degree, but sad because they cannot use the skills they learned in college since they cannot work anywhere [in the U.S.],” MEChA member Christian Zamarron ’11 said.

Though some in opposition of the act say that a surge of newly-legalized citizens could have a negative effect on the U.S. job market and economy, a UCLA study concluded that the integration of DREAM Act beneficiaries into the workforce could actually contribute between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion of taxable income to the U.S. economy.

In the spring, President David Skorton, along with eight other New York university presidents, signed a letter encouraging support of the DREAM Act from Congress. MEChA, the organization that pushed for Skorton’s support of the act, organized the DREAM Act rally to urge students to understand that the issue of immigrant education is not far removed from campus, according to Angeles.

Undocumented Cornell students live in fear and cannot take advantage of many privileges that the student body takes for granted, such as study abroad programs and paid internships, Zamarron said.

An undocumented Cornell sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous for legal reasons, expressed hope that the DREAM Act would pass. “How long will I have to wait until I can be accepted, legally, as part of this country I call home?”

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon