Arizona immigrants could benefit from Dream Act

by Erin Kelly – Jul. 9, 2010 12:00 AM
Republic Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – With prospects for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system looking increasingly dim in Congress, lawmakers have begun to consider the possibility of piecemeal legislation.

The leading contender for action is the Dream Act, which would let young illegal immigrants become legal residents if they attend college or join the military. It is being touted as the only immigration-related bill that has a chance to win enough bipartisan support to pass this year.


Supporters have provided poignant stories of smart, hardworking teenagers admitted to prestigious colleges only to find out that they cannot attend because they were brought to this country illegally as children and do not qualify for in-state tuition rates or most financial aid.

Opponents say granting legal status would put those young people in competition with Americans for jobs.

Nationwide, an estimated 2.1 million young immigrants could benefit from the bill, including 114,000 in Arizona, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

President Barack Obama singled out the bill for praise in a speech last week on the need for immigration reform.

Jazmin Mosqueda, spokeswoman for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said she believes the institute’s report will help bill supporters make their case to Congress when it comes to Washington, D.C., this month for a rally in front of the White House.

“This research and these exact numbers will help us push for the Dream Act by showing how many people it will help,” said Mosqueda, a student at Arizona State University. “We’re really hopeful that there will be action this year.”

The Dream Act was first introduced in 2001 by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

It has been introduced in both houses of Congress numerous times since then, sometimes as part of a larger immigration-reform bill and sometimes as a stand-alone bill. In October 2007, Senate supporters fell eight votes shy of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and allow an up-or-down vote on the bill.

Now, lawmakers are discussing three ways to move the legislation this year, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University Law School.

One is to offer the bill as stand-alone legislation before the November congressional elections.

The second option is to bring it up after the election, during a lame-duck session when lawmakers may be less afraid to vote for a pro-immigrant bill.

The third option is to attach it to a big spending bill, which would make it more difficult for opponents to defeat.

Lawmakers and others opposed to the Dream Act say immigrants shouldn’t be given legalized status or tuition breaks because they will compete with Americans for jobs.

Also, they say, legalizing them will create incentives for more parents to bring their children illegally into the country.

Arizona ranks fifth among the top 16 states where potential beneficiaries of the Dream Act live, according to the institute’s report.

But limited English proficiency, poverty and family obligations would keep many of those young people from fulfilling the proposed law’s requirements for becoming a legal resident.

As a result, less than 40 percent – an estimated 825,000 people nationwide – would likely obtain permanent legal status, the report says. The report’s authors based their estimates on the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, the legislation could have a profound impact on children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents but who want to become legal residents and contribute to the nation where they grew up, the report’s authors said.

“The investments they would be required to make in their education or military service on the path to permanent legal status would ensure that they are well-integrated into U.S. society and bring important skills and training to the U.S. workforce,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of the institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

To meet the Dream Act’s requirements, an immigrant must have entered the U.S. before age 16, been continuously present in the U.S. for at least five years before the law’s enactment, obtained a high-school diploma or its equivalent, and be younger than 35 years old.

If those requirements are met, immigrants would be allowed to stay in the U.S. on a conditional basis for six years.

At the end of that period, immigrants could apply for lawful permanent residence if they obtain a degree from a college or university, complete at least two years in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher, or honorably serve at least two years in the U.S. military.


Arizona immigration law motivating youths to embrace community activism

by Anne Ryman – Jun. 26, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Daniel Rodríguez was up at 5 a.m. one day in May, preparing to speak at a news conference on Arizona’s new immigration law.

The event would draw national media coverage because it featured undocumented youths arrested earlier that week while protesting at Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office.

After the conference, Rodríguez, who wasn’t one of those arrested, spent much of the day at the Arizona Capitol. He participated in an immigration rally, directed a poster-making session and arranged for live band entertainment. That evening, he met with volunteers to discuss future protest strategies. His day ended around 11 p.m.

The 24-year-old Rodríguez is part of a growing grass-roots movement of young Latino adults and high-school students who spend much of their spare time advocating for immigration reform that includes a form of amnesty. Rodríguez has a personal stake in fighting the nation’s toughest immigration law, which goes into effect July 29: He was brought to the United States as a child and is an illegal immigrant.

But there are many other youths standing beside him at protests in the Phoenix area who are U.S. citizens.

Older community activists compare what is happening now in Arizona to the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“If there’s any positive to be gained in Arizona . . . it is the fact it has created a whole new generation of leaders,” said Danny Ortega, a Phoenix attorney and community leader.

Some of these young people may go on and devote themselves to a lifetime of community service, Ortega said. Others could seek political office. It’s possible that some will lose interest if they don’t see changes to immigration policy in the short term, he said. But he is hopeful that many will stay involved.

“That one person speaking out today could be your governor 20 years from now,” Ortega said.

There are several reasons young people have become so involved in the fight against Senate Bill 1070, the new law that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.

Some were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents and want the laws changed so they can become legalized. Others are citizens but have friends or family members who are in the country illegally, so the impact of the law could hit close to home. Many young activists are single and have no children, which gives them more spare time to spend on advocacy than those with families.

Then there’s the generational factor. Although national polls have indicated broad support for Arizona’s immigration law, a poll taken last month by the Pew Research Center said young people are less supportive than older Americans. Less than half of those ages 18 to 29 surveyed approve of the law, compared with 65 percent for those ages 50 to 64.

Staying involved

Rodríguez was always interested in community involvement, but it was his own life experiences that prompted him to step up his participation.

When he was 6 1/2, his mother fled Mexico with him and his two sisters to escape domestic violence, he said. For years, he had no idea that he was here illegally. Gradually, clues emerged. For one thing, his mother seemed overprotective. He couldn’t figure out why she refused to let him go on a sixth-grade trip to Disneyland organized by the mother of one of his friends.

As he approached 16, he was thinking about getting a driver’s license when his sister told him he couldn’t because he was an illegal immigrant. Only U.S. citizens or legal residents are eligible for Arizona driver’s licenses.

Despite his lack of citizenship, Rodríguez didn’t hide in the shadows. In high school, he ran the school newspaper and was involved in political clubs. After graduating in 2004, he attended Arizona State University.

Two years later, the state Legislature passed a law that required students who were unable to prove their legal status to pay out-of-state tuition at the state’s public colleges. The law more than tripled their tuition costs at the universities. The rationale was that taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize tuition and financial aid for people who are in the country illegally.

Rodríguez was able to obtain bachelor’s degrees in English literature and political science with the help of private scholarships and savings. He attended a year of law school at ASU but found it difficult to afford the non-resident tuition and fees, which totaled nearly $29,000 that year.

He plans to return to law school one day. Until then, he works as a translator for attorneys. His activism has become a kind of second job. As public-policy adviser for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, he rallies support for the Dream Act, a proposed federal law that would enable illegal-immigrant students to remain in the U.S., get their college degrees and have a path to citizenship. The bill has been introduced several times in recent years but has not been approved.

Regardless of what happens, he said, he plans to continue his activism.

“I have thought about running for office if I have the privilege of being here,” he said.

Anger and optimism

About eight years after Rodríguez came to the United States, 7-year-old Alejandra Valenzuela made a similar trek with her family.

Valenzuela learned English in elementary school. She didn’t find out she was an illegal immigrant until high school. An “A” student at Carl Hayden Community High School and a member of many clubs, she was researching colleges when she discovered she needed a Social Security number to apply for federal financial aid.

Because she was born in Mexico, she didn’t have one and couldn’t get one, which made her mad.

“I worked my butt off and got good grades,” she said. “I tried to help people. I learned the language, and I learned to love the (American) culture.”

The 17-year-old can still go to college, but she is ineligible for federal or state financial aid, which limits her options. She has private scholarships that will cover many costs at a local private college this fall and is applying for additional grants.

Until then, she interns at a law firm and spends her spare time working on immigration issues.

When SB 1070 was being signed into law in late April, she spent two days outside the state Capitol, sleeping on a cardboard pallet covered with sheets. When she learned the bill had been signed, she burst into tears.

She is now more optimistic. She hopes the controversy surrounding the law will lead to federal reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

At her recent high-school graduation ceremony, Valenzuela wasn’t thinking about the immigration law or the challenges that face her. She blew a kiss to her family as she exited the stage. She was happy, excited and curious about what will happen next in her life.

“Bring it on,” she said she thought as she got her high-school diploma.

Speaking openly

Outside Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum where Alejandra’s graduation was taking place, 18-year-old Carlos Gonzalez stood in the hot sun.

He was flanked by Linda Diaz, a 17-year-old senior at Central High School, and Angel Martinez, a 16-year-old junior at South Mountain High School. As the graduates and their families poured out of the arena, the trio held up signs that said, “You got your diploma so now what?” and “The Dream Act is coming.”

They have become a familiar sight at immigration protests and news conferences. All hold leadership roles in a newly formed group that aims to give high-school students an avenue for getting involved. The group, called “No Hate, Educate!,” communicates using social-media websites like Facebook and MySpace and a website they created.

Gonzalez, Diaz and Martinez are U.S. citizens, and their status means they can speak openly on behalf of those who are illegal immigrants and afraid of being deported.

Gonzalez, a soft-spoken artist, spends his spare time creating elaborate posters to display at the protests. A sophomore majoring in architecture at ASU, he has friends who are in the U.S. illegally and chose not to go to college because they cannot afford out-of-state resident tuition.

The Dream Act

He sees the federal Dream Act as a way to help his friends because the law would allow them to attend college without fear and make them eligible for student loans and federal work-study programs.

Gonzalez is not interested in running for public office. But he plans to be involved in community work for a long time, possibly branching into other areas like domestic-violence prevention and working with orphans.

“Many people have a dream,” he said. “But if they don’t have the resources, it’s hard for them.”

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/06/26/20100626arizona-immigration-law-community-activism.html#ixzz0sGhfCetJ




Wake up and pass the DREAM immigration reform act

The bill would give undocumented young people the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they meet certain requirements.

June 26, 2010

May, the deadline by which advocates had hoped comprehensive immigration reform legislation would be introduced in Congress, has come and gone. It is time to accept that no matter how badly the nation needs this reform, Washington does not have the political will to act on such a divisive issue. So it is time to change tactics. Leaders of the immigration reform movement, who so far have insisted on pushing for an omnibus package of bills, should heed the young people in their ranks calling for a stand-alone effort to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors legislation, or the DREAM Act.

The bill would give undocumented young people the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency (which can lead to legal permanent residency and then citizenship) if they graduate from U.S. high schools, have been in the country continuously at least five years before the legislation’s enactment, and meet certain post-secondary educational or military service requirements. This is the only aspect of immigration reform — other than those related to enforcement — with any steam behind it. Backers of the bill — known among themselves as “Dreamers” — have been fasting and marching and demonstrating for months. Some have publicly outed themselves as undocumented. They have put faces and names to the 65,000 students who graduate each year from high school into permanent limbo, unable either to work legally or, often, go to college.

Until now, reform advocates have been reluctant to separate the DREAM Act from the broader immigration reform package, for fear they were removing the most politically palatable piece. But that may be a miscalculation. The plight of undocumented students has not inspired a sense of urgency for reform in the political mainstream even though the students are in many cases both deserving and blameless.

Most of those who would be affected by the legislation were brought to the United States by their parents. Many remember no other home and, like their peers, are eager to pursue the American Dream. Such is the case of Eric Balderas, the 19-year-old Harvard University student whose status became the subject of national attention when federal authorities learned he is undocumented. Balderas was brought to the country at age 4 and grew up thinking he was a U.S. citizen. Not until his mother refused to let him get a driver’s license did he learn the truth. Still, he became valedictorian at his Texas high school and is now studying molecular and cellular biology. His deportation has been indefinitely deferred, but in our view, he shouldn’t be deported at all.

Opponents of the DREAM Act say the parents of such students are to blame. Maybe. But the fact remains that the children did not trap themselves. And permitting them to go to college is a smart investment — students like Balderas will become successful professionals and gainfully employed taxpayers. Sacrificing the future of talented students does not serve the greater good; it is time to pass the DREAM Act.

Another immigration plan: charge tuition for illegal students

By Luige del Puerto – luige.delpuerto@azcapitoltimes.com

Published: June 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

Daniel was 6 years old when his mother sneaked him and his two sisters into the United States from Mexico.

He later graduated from the Arizona public school system and earned two degrees from Arizona State University – one in political science, the other in literature.

But the harsh reality of his status as an illegal immigrant broadsided his dream of becoming a lawyer. As an illegal immigrant, Daniel is barred from getting waivers, grants or any other financial assistance to finish law school, so he dropped out after the first year and is now working as an intern at a law office.

What frustrates Daniel is that nothing is being done to address the issue of students like him who were brought here at a very young age.

“Imagine waking up one day and your parents telling you that, ‘Hey, you’re actually from Iran and you’re not here documented, and you’re about to face a really harsh reality’,” said Daniel, whose last name was withheld by the Arizona Capitol Times.

But if Sen. Russell Pearce gets his way, people like Daniel would be derailed from the education system much earlier, and in a way that could have much more significant effects on individuals and society as a whole.

Pearce said he plans to draft legislation next year to require students who are here illegally to pay tuition or be removed from public schools.

“They shouldn’t be a burden.” Pearce said. “You don’t have a right to be a non-resident of this state and take advantage of the taxpayers of this state.”

There are no precise figures to calculate the number of undocumented students in Arizona’s schools. But according to the Pew Hispanic Center, at least 10 percent of students in Arizona’s K-12 system have parents who are illegal immigrants.

It costs $9,698 to educate each student for one year in the Arizona public school system, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That figure, from January 2009, represents local, state and federal funding.

Carmen Cornejo of CADENA, a group that advocates for the passage of the federal DREAM Act, called the idea ridiculous and contrary to human rights. She said children have a right to a free public education, and the state should be trying to get more children into school rather than keep them out.

Cornejo said Arizona already has one of the lowest rates of high school completion in the nation and Pearce’s proposal would exacerbate the problem.

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, opposes the idea of requiring students who are illegally here to pay tuition because it would potentially put school workers, such as teachers, in the middle of the immigration crossfire and take them away from the mission of educating children.

“It suddenly requires school personnel to play a role as an immigration official to check status and to require documentation,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first attempt to pass legislation requiring public school tuition for illegal immigrant students. Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler, offered an amendment this year that would have required school boards to charge tuition to undocumented students or remove them from class. The amendment failed to pass.

“The basic idea though is to try to get a little bit of control over the tide of illegal immigration that is just overwhelming us,” Huppenthal said.

Indeed, the legislation was meant to test the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in a case out of Texas in the early 1980s.

In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must offer free public education to all school-age children, whether they are here illegally or not.

The court ruled that while public education is not a right, it is also not just some governmental benefit. Education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of society, the court said.

“By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation,” the justices noted.

Not only that, but the court noted it would be fundamentally unfair to act against the children of illegal immigrants.

“Even if the state found it expedient to control the conduct of adults by acting against their children, legislation directing the onus of a parent’s misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

The court noted, though, that there was no evidence suggesting illegal immigrants impose any significant burden on the state’s economy, and the record did not support the claim that excluding undocumented children was likely to improve the overall quality of education.

Michael Hethmon, a lawyer with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said his group is recommending a two-phase approach to overturning ~Plyler~. The first is to gather information to show an adverse impact as a result of educating children who are here illegally, then revisit the case’s constitutional merits.

Hethmon said the situation is different now, and it would be hard to argue that illegal immigrants have no significant impact on the educational opportunities of U.S. citizens or legal residents. Arizona, which shares the border with Mexico, was estimated to have about 500,000 undocumented residents in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.



DREAM, deferred

Eight-year battle over undocumented student aid lingers at crossroads

11-03-09 DREAM Act

(Photo illustration by Branden Eastwood | The State Press)

Published On:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version


::In the midst of the latest Congressional push for immigration reform, the debate over illegal immigration is becoming more heated than ever before. This is the first of a three-part series on illegal immigration in Arizona and its effects on the state, the economy and the University.::

Every year, roughly 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in the U.S., according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

They are ineligible to receive federal student aid, an obstacle that keeps many of them from attending college.

For the past eight years, proponents of the DREAM Act — The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — have been fighting to end that policy. Advocates for the DREAM Act say current law alienates a huge portion of the population that, if legally allowed to work, could contribute more than unskilled labor to the economy.

The proposed legislation would allow undocumented students who came to the U.S. as minors to receive federal student aid and provide a path to legal status if they fulfill certain requirements, including a clean criminal record and being “of good moral character.”

Daniel Rodriguez, the political adviser for Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said the current system is wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money on primary and secondary education for illegal immigrant students — court precedents have established their right to attend public schools — without allowing them to fully contribute to the workforce.

Essentially, he said, it is creating an underclass of disenfranchised students with nowhere to go.

“It’s like we’re making an investment we refuse to cash out on,” Rodriguez said. “We need to allow [undocumented students] to pursue their education, or we won’t see the fruit of our investments.”

The opposition

Supporters of the legislation are opposed by those who see the DREAM Act as a loophole that will allow illegal immigrants to flood the country and make higher education even less accessible for working-class American citizens.

“Allowing children of parents who are here illegally to obtain in-state tuition would have the effect of incentivizing the breaking of our federal immigration laws,” said Bethany Haley, a spokeswomen for Rep.

Trent Franks, R-Ariz., in an e-mail. “This situation has already created a large burden on the American taxpayer in other states, … and in a time of economic recession, continuing to raise pressure on hard-working American families is not something [Franks] can support.”

State Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Glendale, who also works in Franks’ office, said the act is unfair to those who go through the immigration process legally. He added that he would be in favor of providing undocumented students with a path to legal status if they go through the process of obtaining a visa.

“Where I have difficulty [with the DREAM Act] is granting the students automatic status because of the mistakes of their parents,” Montenegro said.

History of DREAM

The two sides have clashed since 2001, when Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced legislation aimed at repealing sections of a law passed in 1996 that keeps undocumented students from receiving any state or financial assistance for higher education not offered to American citizens, including in-state tuition.

It has garnered bipartisan support each session, including co-sponsorship by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The legislation has failed each session, coming up eight votes short of the support needed to overcome a filibuster in 2007.

Rodriguez said key changes to the plan over the years, which exclude undocumented students with criminal records and add the option of military service as a path to legal status, have strengthened the movement. The election of President Barack Obama has given them hope for passing the legislation this session.

“We have a new administration that has committed itself to the DREAM Act,” Rodriguez said. “President Obama has said it’s a priority because it would help the economy.”

The bigger picture

But proponents of the DREAM Act also face a crucial decision. Many politicians, including Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., are pushing the DREAM Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform plans that would include guest worker programs and paths to legal status for illegal immigrants.

“Congressman Flake believes that the matter the DREAM seeks to remedy needs to be addressed in the context of more comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” said Matt Specht, a representative of Flake’s office in an e-mail.

Flake co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill called the STRIVE Act with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., which would establish a temporary guest worker program while increasing resources for border security and increasing penalties for passport and visa fraud.

Supporters of Flake’s bill, including Grijalva, said the DREAM Act provisions only address one aspect of a much larger, more complex problem.

“We’re really selling ourselves short in only asking for certain provisions [rather] than demanding immigration reform,” said Bertha Guerrero, a spokeswoman for Grijalva’s office. “It’s important to address the multifaceted issue altogether.”

Though they are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, members of DREAM Act Arizona said they are opposed to combining the two pieces of legislation because they fear the sweeping reforms of a guest worker program will garner less support than the Act by itself. Erica Andiola, a 2009 graduate of ASU’s psychology department who heads the DREAM Act coalition in Arizona, pointed to the failure of the 2007 immigration reform bill, which included the DREAM Act provisions, as evidence of this — the bill failed by a wider margin than the DREAM Act on its own.

“If it’s part of immigration reform, it’s a lot less likely to pass than by itself,” Andiola said. “More people are supportive of the DREAM Act than of the comprehensive immigration bill,” she said.

Rodriguez said the act is in danger of being shelved again if comprehensive reform is not passed, delaying relief to thousands of students.

“We don’t want the DREAM Act to die with comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

Reach the reporter at derek.quizon@asu.edu.


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