Immigrant reforms discussed

By Yuri Ozeki

University and community members gathered Nov. 11 at the College of Law’s auditorium for panel discussion entitled, “Undocumented Students and Higher Education: The Implications of Illinois House Bill 60 on the University of Illinois.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed House Bill 60 into law May 18, 2003 allowing undocumented students to enroll in Illinois colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.

Alonzo Rivas of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sat on the panel, along with Fred Tsao , policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Every year, nearly 65,000 undocumented students graduate high school.

Those who qualify for House Bill 60 must meet certain criteria. The bill applies to undocumented students who graduated from high school or received a high school equivalency degree in Illinois. The student must have attended an Illinois school for a minimum of three years while living with their parents. An affidavit is also needed to confirm if the student is planning to file a permanent resident application soon.

The affidavit is used in part as a sign of good moral character.

“It’s a written statement that each student who benefits from HB60 has to sign, in so many words, ‘I will pursue legal status at my soonest opportunity,'” Tsao said. “It is, as much as anything, a show of good faith on the part of the student that they intend to make their life here.”

As House Bill 60 has opened up an avenue for undocumented students to attend college, the greater issue of legal status remains.

“You can change the law here at the state level, but immigration is a federal matter,” Tsao said. “Any changes to the immigration laws must go through the federal level.”

Several acts are now being proposed to allow undocumented students to apply for legal status. There have been several different versions, including the Student Adjustment Act and the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act better known as the DREAM Act.

The DREAM act includes provisions to allow six-year deportation immunity for illegal immigrants if they grew up in the United States and graduated from a United States high school. During this six-year period, if an undocumented student finishes two years of college or serves two years in the military, the student could apply to earn permanent legal residence status.

“It’s our great hope that there will be change to the immigration laws that will address the undocumented,” Tsao said. “Immigration has become a really hot issue during the past year. It’s only going to become hotter.”

Diana Mora, junior in LAS and the president of La Colectiva, helped organize the panel discussion.

“I believe that the DREAM Act has the best possibilities of being passed,” Mora said. “A lot of people can relate to the dream of getting an education, of being able to go to college and then working in whatever field they worked really hard in.”

Tsao made an important point to clarify the purpose of House Bill 60.

“These are students who are doing incredibly well in school,” Tsao said. “We want them to be part of our society. No body benefits if these young minds go to waste. If someone is able to get into the U of I, does really well on the LSATs, has a good GPA, we want those people to continue their education. And ultimately pursue a career that will help us as a country.”

The University application process has made reforms. The University no longer uses a social security number to identify students, but provides students identification numbers for each student regardless of legal status. There is now a section on the application for undocumented students to enter information applying House Bill 60.

Yadira Montoya, junior in ALS, shared her family’s story during the discussion.

“I myself am undocumented,” Montoya said. “My brother and older sister are undocumented also.”

Montoya’s sister graduated last year with an accounting degree from the University. She is now working in a coffee shop in New York unable to utilize her degree. Montoya now worries about her brother’s future and her own.

“I come to these meetings and events hoping to find a solution, but there somehow isn’t one,” Montoya said. “I keep telling my story over and over again and having people sympathize but not really being able to fully understand or give a solution.”

Overall, the session received a positive response.

“I think it went very well,” Mora said. “We had a very good turnout. The audience themselves posed a lot of answers to the questions that other people had. So it was a real discussion, not just a Q & A.”

Mora expressed hopes of creating a committee to look at issues on a case-by-case basis to continue discussion.