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Incoming freshman fights for U.S. citizenship

By Paige Pearcy, Daily Staff Reporter
Published July 8, 2011

For incoming LSA freshman Ola Kaso, the amount of time she will study at the University is uncertain. The University hasn’t revoked her admission and she isn’t looking into transferring — instead her status as an illegal immigrant in the United States is hindering her from pursuing a post-secondary education.

Kaso, who is at risk of being deported to her home country of Albania after moving to the United States with her mother when she was five years old, recently testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security at a hearing on June 28 in support of the DREAM Act. Introduced by U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D–Mich.), she shared her story and appealed for the Act to be passed.

“Despite my compliance with the law, there is no way I can obtain citizenship under current law,” Kaso said in her statement. “Despite all my hard work and contributions, I face removal from the only country I have considered home.”

Kaso graduated from Cousino High School in Warren, Michigan with a 4.4 grade point average and is hoping to follow the pre-med track at the University in order to eventually become a surgical oncologist, according to her statement.

The DREAM Act would allow children of undocumented immigrants like Kaso to be granted citizenship as long as they fulfill a list of requirements, including being between the ages of 12 and 35, either graduating from high school, obtaining a GED in the United States or being accepted into a higher educational institution, as well as living in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years.

Silvia Pedraza, professor of sociology and American culture, has focused much of her studies on immigration and said that while there are laws that allow undocumented children to obtain a high school education — since no one in the country, regardless of status, is denied a basic education — the public is divided on if higher schooling should be allowed for those who reside in the country illegally.

“The feelings about college are different because people feel that college is a privilege, that college is something that you earn not something that you deserve,” Pedraza said. “But I have to say that in the society in which we now live, a college degree is what a high school degree was two generations ago: a basic level of education that everybody should have.”

Sherrie Kossoudji, associate professor in the School of Social Work, said that since the Act has been through U.S. Congress several times, including in December 2010 when it failed to be passed to the Senate by five votes, reintroducing the Act keeps it fresh in the public’s memory.

“It also helps to remind us that lots of people who contribute or hope to contribute to our society just need a little help from us to regularize their legal status,” Kossoudji said.

However, Pedraza said it is difficult and rare for students like Kaso to speak out for the Act because it acknowledges that members of their families are also undocumented. Despite this, she said she believes the number of students who would be affected by the DREAM Act is substantial.

“They want to put a human face on it,” Pedraza said. “They want people to realize that they are students, that they are young people, that they are studying, that they are doing well. That they are having their lives and their hopes and aspirations thwarted by not being able to obtain a college education.”

Pedraza added she is skeptical about whether the Act will be passed before the 2012 presidential election because it is a “political hot football,” which leaves an entire year of waiting and worrying for students like Kaso.

At the end of her statement, Kaso acknowledged that a large number of students like her would be affected by the Act.

“There are thousands of other Dreamers just like me,” Kaso said. “All we are asking for is a chance to contribute to the country we love.”