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DREAM Act for California Immigrant Students Gets Push

New America Media, News Report, Seth Sandronsky Posted: Feb 05, 2010

In dreams, immigration officials rushed in and arrested me, said Ju H. I woke up sweating. My heart was pounding.

Eyes tearing, the 20-year-old immigrant without citizenship documents from South Korea and current community college student in the San Francisco Bay Area continued telling his story to advocates, lawmakers and students at a crowded Capitol summit in Sacramento on Wednesday.

He described barriers to federal and state help for himself and others like him seeking education at four-year institutions. The walls to such schooling would fall with passage of the federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001.

The bipartisan legislation was re-introduced in March 2009 in the 111th Congress as S. 729 and H.R. 1751. This proposed bill would allow tens of thousands of students whose undocumented parents brought them to the United States, where they grew up, attended schools and worked, to access many forms of financial aid to achieve the American Dream of gaining a higher education degree and securing stable employment afterwards.

For example, the DREAM Act would amend current federal immigration law and allow states to grant residency status to undocumented youth who have graduated from high school. This, in turn would qualify such students for state college tuition, less costly than what non-residents pay.

In addition, the DREAM Act would allow these students to receive federal grants and be eligible for work-study programs at higher education institutions.

Speakers at the summit made clear the political obstacles to passing the DREAM Act.

Today is a time of fierce anti-immigrant hysteria, said State Senator Gilbert Cedillo (D-LA). But I have optimism in spite of this with President Obama who ran on a platform of hope and change, plus a business community that understands the vital role of immigrants in the state economy.

The expansion of an educated American work force itself is a policy of economic stimulus, the president has said.

Cedillo and his fellow lawmakers at the DREAM Act summit drew parallels between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which overcame discrimination against African Americans to the passage of the DREAM Act today.

This is a continuing movement for civil rights, said State Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach). State Senator Curren Price (D-LA), concurred with Cedillo and Furutani, noting the urgent need to remove barriers to higher education for undocumented students.

The College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, and the Latino, Black and Asian Pacific Islander Legislative caucuses, sponsored the DREAM Act summit in Sacramento. According to the College Board, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across the nation each year. In California alone, there are an estimated 26,000 undocumented youth, according to a 2006 Pew Foundation study.

They need allies to improve their educational opportunities after high school, said Kent Wong, an attorney, UCLA professor and director of the Center for Labor Research and Education. These students were brought to this country through no decision of their own by parents and relatives looking for a better life, he said.

The arc Wong described fits the life of Ju H. His mother, after a bankruptcy and divorce in South Korea, brought his sister and him to America nine years ago. He is studying political science and hopes to attend UC Berkeley in the future.

With the state budget deficit growing after the housing crash due to falling property and sales tax revenues, California lawmakers have hiked fees by double digits for students in the UC and California State University systems. With these costs rising, the dream of attending a state college or university could be fading fast for undocumented students with high school diplomas.

We need your help in leadership roles to help us pass the DREAM Act in 2010, said Ju H.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Contact sandronsky@yahoo.com.

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