When he was three years old, local community college student Mohammed, who asked that his last name not be printed because he is in the country illegally, immigrated to Ann Arbor from Iran with his parents in 1989.
He has lived here ever since, attending Ann Arbor public schools for his entire primary education. But because of a lawyer’s filing mistake when his parents first arrived in the United States, he remains an undocumented immigrant.
Mohammed has taken the maximum amount of transferable credits at a Michigan community college and wants to finish his degree in social work at the University of Michigan. However, due to high tuition costs and a lack of eligibility for in-state tuition or financial aid because he is undocumented, he cannot attend the University.
Students like Mohammed are uniting to urge the U.S. Senate to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act to help undocumented young people, who arrived to the United States as children, become citizens by either completing two years of military service or attend college for two years. The bill would also allow universities to offer these students in-state tuition at state schools and make them eligible for financial aid. Currently, it is unclear if state universities can offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
At its weekly meeting last night, the Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution supporting a federal DREAM Act in a vote of 17-5-10. It was authored by Rackham Rep. Kate Stenvig and LSA Rep. Robby Saldaña.
The resolution includes supporting a march for the act that will be held on May 1 in southwest Detroit. The march will begin in Patton Memorial Park at 10 a.m. and end at Clark Park with a rally at noon. Organizations contributing to the march and rally include Migrant and Immigrant Rights Awareness, By Any Means Necessary and Latinos Unidos/United de Michigan.
“Many of these (undocumented immigrants) have attended U.S. schools for most of their lives, but their immigration status bars them from opportunities that make a college education affordable, including in-state tuition rates, loans and grants, most private scholarships and the ability to work legally,” the resolution reads.
The resolution states that MSA will send a copy of the resolution to President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, The Michigan Daily, The Ann Arbor News and the Detroit Free Press.
Several supporters of the DREAM Act addressed the assembly about the issue at both last night’s and last week’s meetings, encouraging representatives to vote in favor of the resolution.
Laura Sanders, a lecturer in the School of Social Work and founder of an interfaith coalition for immigrant rights, stressed the importance of the cause at MSA’s meeting last week.
“The whole issue of immigration is really at the forefront of our human rights and civil rights movements right now,” she said. “We don’t really realize how under attack our immigrant community is, and you can really change that. You can really have a voice as Michigan students.”
The proposal was originally brought before the assembly last week but was tabled until this week because the meeting ran too long.
The DREAM Act applies to students with “good moral character” who arrived in the United States before turning 16, lived in the country for at least five years and graduated from high school or earned a General Education Development diploma. After high school graduation, individuals are required to serve in the military or attend college for at least two years, according to the Library of Congress website.
LSA senior Christine Rhee, president of Migrant and Immigrant Rights Awareness (MIRA), said the DREAM Act would help to provide financial relief for undocumented immigrants.
“So far a lot of undocumented students are just stalling or are deferring their acceptance letters or aren’t even considering going to higher universities just because of the fact that they have undocumented status and the fact that they can’t pay for out-of-state tuition, granted their whole lives were practically in the states that they wanted to apply to,” she said.
Mohammed said if the DREAM Act were to pass, it would help him finish college and earn a degree in social work.
“The one personal thing is that it would enable me to go to school and finish my degree, my master’s and bachelor’s, and then actually be able to give back to the community that I’ve pretty much grown up in my whole life,” he said.
Mohammed said he believes in students’ potential to make a difference in the passage of the legislation.
“One big role is just as a sign of unity. Everybody coming together and voicing support for it is one big definite step,” he said. “And another one would be going and actually lobbying on behalf of it as students and as people from the community.”
Stenvig echoed this sentiment, saying that universities play a critical role in passing this legislation.
“In particular, universities can play a big role because students are coming to administrations, who can say, ‘We need to do this to make it possible for (undocumented) students to be able to come here,’ ” she said. “And I think that’s really important.”
Even though several representatives who spoke against the resolution said they favored the overall concept of the DREAM Act, there was opposition due to the unstable nature of the bill.
Rackham Rep. Michael Benson, who did not vote in favor of the resolution, said he would encourage the assembly to follow the bill as it might change and to readdress the act in the fall.
“My main objection was the fact that we just approved something that we don’t know what the final form will be,” Benson said.