By Crista Cornavaca
Students from the United We Dream Coalition and DREAM Act supporters gathered at Lafayette Square in front of the White House and on Capitol Hill last week to promote awareness for the DREAM Act and to give visible presence to the previously invisible undocumented student population. These activists are striving to pressure Congress to move the DREAM Act to a vote. The Act would allow undocumented students who have lived in the United States for most of their lives to receive a higher education, allow students to accept the academic and athletic scholarships they have been unable to access due to their immigration status, and after two years of military service or successful completion of higher education, continue on their path to being productive and patriotic Americans with legal permanent residence.
The movement to pass the DREAM Act has gained momentum this summer as the deadline to pass some form of immigration reform measure looms for this generation of students. The surge in support from undocumented youth across the country demonstrates their eagerness to gain the same rights as their American citizen counterparts. These students, although accepted to colleges and universities, some even with handsome scholarships, are unable to fulfill their dreams of becoming college graduates or receiving high-skilled job offers. This has put millions of students in limbo until some type of immigration reform is passed. Despite the daunting task of reaching a permanent solution, activists present in Washington D.C. with the Student Immigration Movement and United We Dream Coalition demonstrated their undeniable strength and courage to advocate for immigration reform that would allow students to pursue their educational and vocational dreams.
This week and next week, undocumented and documented students along with many other activists are taking part in events to show their support of the DREAM Act and to urge the federal government to act now. The model of their rally is reminiscent of the teach-ins during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and is quite powerful: the public is welcome to attend free classes at DREAM University, in front of the White House. In the hopes of raising awareness about the DREAM Act and promoting greater access to education, they will have guest speakers and professors from around the country giving lectures on various topics including immigration, human rights and leadership building workshops. Speeches and lectures follow a classroom model, complete with rows of students and active engagement.
Two of the students attending the opening day of Dream U, Maricela Aguilar and Renata Teodoro, showed their hope and enthusiasm for the possibility of the passage of the DREAM Act. No different from US citizen youth, both of these students graduated high school with high hopes of pursuing their dream careers, working for the United Nations or as an advocate of immigration law. Both are multilingual and are working to fund their college educations, since financial aid is not available in any form to undocumented students. They were brought to the United States at a young age, Maricela at age three and Renata at age six. These bright young students are actively engaged in making a positive change in their lives and the lives of their less fortunate peers through education and activism.
Renata, originally from Brazil, is an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Along with being a double major in Human Services and Psychology, she is an organizer for the Student Immigrant Movement in Massachusetts and aspires to a career in immigration law. Maricela, originally from Mexico, is a student at Marquette University in Wisconsin and is a double major in Political Science and English Literature with a minor in Peace Studies. She is also an active member of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group in Wisconsin. The organization helped her by providing a contact at Marquette that helped her gain admission to the University and earn a full tuition scholarship.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” Maricela said during an afternoon interview in Lafayette Square last Thursday. Other undocumented students are not as fortunate.
After being removed from the lawn where the group was sitting during their afternoon class by local police officers, both women offered detailed stories of friends and acquaintances who have not been able to attend college or accept scholarships to prestigious universities because of their immigration status . Not only are they denied admission to certain schools due to lack of financial assistance, they are also required to apply as international students even though they spent the majority of their lives growing up as Americans and graduating from high schools in the US.
Hopefully, the continued presence of student activists in Washington DC this July will encourage Congress to take action on the passage of the DREAM Act, so that in the near future, a younger generation of undocumented students will not be left uneducated. In the words of Maricela, “If the DREAM Act doesn’t pass this year, there is a whole other class of graduates in June that will go to waste.”
This past Tuesday, 12 DREAM Activists were arrested in the lobby of the Hart Senate Building after participating in a silent sit-in to push for passage of the DREAM Act. They made a strong political statement by being arrested in full graduation cap and gown, with the message of “Undocumented and Unafraid”. Although this message has garnered much attention from the public, they do face the possibility of deportation because they are undocumented and possibly facing misdemeanor charges, since no demonstrating is allowed in a Capitol Building.
For a video of the interview at DREAM University and additional photos, visit the CLINIC Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/cliniclegal. For more information on the organizations involved with DREAM University, visit these websites:
United We Dream Coalition: www.Unitedwedream.org
DREAM University: www.dreamuniversity2010.org
Student Immigrant Movement: www.simforus.com
Voces de la Frontera: www.vdlf.org
Arizona DREAM Act Coalition: The DREAM Is Coming: http://azdreamactcoalition.weebly.com/