By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Armed with bilingual signs and chants of “we want to follow our dreams,” a group of riled-up Denver-metro students Wednesday did their best to reignite the debate over immigration reform and higher education.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would grant in-state tuition to the children of undocumented residents and provide a pathway for select students to achieve citizenship. Although the bill was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on March 26, 2009, it has yet to be heard on the floor of either chamber.
The crowd of approximately 75 high school and college students staged a “walk-in” to the Auraria Campus in hopes of bringing attention and momentum back to the proposed legislation. The rally was one of more than 100 similar events being held throughout the country Wednesday.
“Up with the DREAM Act; let’s get these young people educated and create a just society,” said Dr. Ramon Del Castillo, department chair of Chicano Studies at the Metropolitan State College of Denver. “You have the right to follow your dreams and that’s what the DREAM Act is about.”
Tancredo: More like a nightmare
Not everyone is dreaming that the bill will make its way through Congress. Tom Tancredo, an outspoken illegal immigration opponent, told the Denver Daily News earlier this year that the bill should be renamed the NIGHTMARE Act because it would increase the amount of people who come to the United States illegally.
“If that’s the purpose of it, then it should be a success,” he said. “But for everyone else who considers more illegal immigration in the country as a bad thing, then this isn’t a good idea.”
However, the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, another adamant opponent of illegal immigration, isn’t against the DREAM ACT in principal, according to the group’s president, Chris Simcox. Simcox said in March that if the bill focuses only on the child and doesn’t have any extra provisions like allowing the student’s family a pathway to citizenship, then he isn’t necessarily against it.
“They need to be brought out of the shadows. They need to be documented and swear an oath to become a citizen,” he said. “If they do that, then by all means they deserve the opportunity that anyone else has.”
Stories from students
High school senior Fatima Rashad Wednesday said that her experiences at East High School have encouraged her to support the DREAM Act. She said that she became upset after learning that some of the brightest students she knows won’t be able to attend college because of immigration laws.
“Everyone deserves to be educated; there is absolutely no reason why someone shouldn’t,” she said.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., echoed Rashad’s comments in a statement that was addressed to the rally’s attendees. While serving as superintendent for the Denver Public School System, he witnessed “some of our best and brightest” have their potential cut short, he said.
“Instead of punishing them for the action of others, we should reward them because in the end our whole state will reap the rewards of a stronger workforce and a stronger economy,” he said in the statement. “Those who work hard and play by the rules should have the chance to live the American dream.”
But William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC said in a statement that granting undocumented students in-state tuition would have detrimental consequences.
“In-state tuition for illegals legislation replaces innocent American students in the limited seats in college at taxpayers’ expense,” he said.
The DREAM Act’s delay in making it to the House and Senate floors is partially due to lawmakers trying to decide whether to vote on the bill separately or as part of an overall immigration reform package, according to Bennet’s statewide director Romaine Pacheco.
An estimated 65,000 undocumented students who would qualify for aid under the DREAM Act graduate from high school each year.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters