Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Knowledge

How would you feel if a country that you call home denied you the right to a college degree, (after paying four years of tuition out of pocket?)

While most of us may not be able to relate to this, it is the harsh reality for more than 65,000 undocumented immigrants. Many of them were brought to the United States as children and raised here by their parents but because of legal constraints, they are unable to receive a diploma after completing four years of undergraduate study. Because they are not legal citizens, they cannot apply for federal loans or grants, but can still register for school using their tax ID number and then shell out thousands of dollars to attend. The student then progresses through four years, completes each course successfully and then is denied their right to graduate.

The Dream Act, formally known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, seeks to put an end to this practice and the College Democrats here at St. John’s are doing their part to help to get this act passed. The Dream Act, if approved, would give immigrant students provisional legal status in the U.S. and after five years they can apply for citizenship.

Last month the College Democrats held a Phone Bank in Marillac Hall, St. Augustine Hall and Montgoris. The group’s aim was to bring awareness to the campus and encourage students to phone U.S. Senators and ask them to support the bill. Some Senators who have supported the act and are its main proponents are Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Trent Lott of Mississippi.

College Democrats President Shamil Rodriguez emphasized that these immigrants have called the United States their home for most of their lives and should be allowed the right to pursue higher education. “A lot of these kids are brought here when they are three or four years old, raised here by their parents but are still not considered citizens,” he said. “The Dream Act supports and gives a voice to people who deserve the right to have a college degree. They work hard and contribute positively to society”.

Along with the help of other organizations at St. John’s, such as the Model United Nations and Greek Life, they were able to recruit enough students to make over 500 calls to U.S. Senators. More than 60 colleges nationwide including Harvard, Georgetown, UCLA, Florida Sate University and the University of Texas, held similar events.

To ensure that the Dream Act benefits those that it is intended for, immigrants must fulfill several requirements. They must have entered the U.S. before they were 16 years old. Also, if they are students, they must be accepted by any two or four year institution of higher learning or obtained their General Education Development (GED) certificate at the time of application for provisional legal status. They will also be eligible if they served in the U.S. armed forces for at least two years. The Dream Act also states that applicants must be of good moral standing in the community and show that they have been law-abiding citizens. Persons with criminal records will not be accepted.

The College Democrats accepted the challenge of gathering more support for an Act that has caused much controversy. “We were being beaten on the phone calls 300:1 the last two times that the Dream Act came up. It was at this time that I was contacted by two companies who wanted to change this,” Rodriguez said.

The two firms responsible for this Phone Bank initiative throughout the country are The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform based in Washington, D.C.

The Dream Act was recently brought up again after the Phone Bank Initiative. The Senate had to decide whether or not they would vote on the act. After a vote the majority of the Senate agreed that it would not be voted on. Those supporting the act lost by only six votes. Rodriguez attributes this to the fact that some Senators who supported the act were not present for the preliminary vote.

Nevertheless, the College Democrats and other adherents to the Act have achieved one of their goals, which was to spread awareness of the current situation. Even after their last setback they have not lost their zeal to continue in the struggle to see the Dream Act passed.