Student activism targets immigration reform

La Casa Cultural Latina will host a teach-in Friday about the controversial DREAM Act, reintroduced to Congress, on March 26.

Short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, the DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants who moved to the U.S. when they were 16 years old or younger and earned a GED or a high school diploma at a U.S. school to apply for six years of residency. These individuals must have immigrated to the U.S. within the last five years.

If applicants earn a two- or four-year college degree or complete a two-year term in the Armed Forces within this time period, they are able to apply for citizenship.

Irakere Picon, junior in LAS and president of La Colectiva, a social justice organization centered on immigrant issues, is planning an educational panel for later this month. The purpose of the panel would be to inform attendees about the DREAM Act and its importance at both a national and a local level.

“About 65,000 (undocumented students) graduate a year from high schools all over the U.S.,” Picon said, adding that they could have immigrated illegally or legally with visas that have since expired.

While not all states allow undocumented students to attend universities, in Illinois it is possible because entering a Social Security number on applications is optional, he said. While this enables undocumented students to apply, Picon added that it prevents them from receiving many of the same benefits as their peers, such as financial aid, grants and loans.

“A big issue that we see here on campus is that the administration knows that we have undocumented students on campus, but they won’t come out and say it,” Picon said. “So that group doesn’t ask for help. So we’re trying to have the administration support us.”

The primary emphasis since the act was reintroduced has been on contacting congressional representatives. La Colectiva is starting a postcard campaign urging Illinois legislators to support the DREAM Act.

Cynthia Ledesma, sophomore in LAS and a member of La Colectiva, said this is just one of many forms of nationwide activism surrounding the DREAM Act. She added that another group she is involved in traveled to Eugene, Ore., for a national conference about the act.

“Over 600 people were at the rally there,” she said, adding that similar protests were taking place all over the U.S.

However, the DREAM Act has attracted negative attention as well.

“It rewards illegal aliens with in-state tuition and the opportunity for citizenship,” said Phil Bloomer, press secretary at the Champaign Office of Congressman Timothy Johnson. “I can’t imagine that Congressman Johnson is going to support this.”

Bloomer said recent budget cuts in higher education made the DREAM Act unfeasible, calling it “bad policy.”

Bloomer also expressed concern that the act prioritizes undocumented students over legal residents. He said it also may be unfair to out-of-state students and international students who have to pay higher tuition.

“Why should illegal aliens, even if they came here because of their parents’ illegal activities, be granted in-state tuition over some kid from Indiana?” he said.

Picon said many see the DREAM Act as a “hidden amnesty bill,” or have expressed concerns about these new citizens vouching for other immigrants.

However, he said deporting students after high school is a waste of taxpayers’ money and prevents them from going into the workplace and contributing to the economy.

“The Supreme Court ruled that undocumented children have just as much of a right to education K-12 as (legal residents),” Picon said.

“It doesn’t make sense to educate them up to high school and then not have anything available for them.”