Individuals involved in the movement to get documentation illegal immigrant students in the United States discussed at an event last night how the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minority, or DREAM Act, would impact these students.
The event titled “Coming Out of the Shadows” was held by the Migrant and Immigrants Right Awareness group on campus, which is a part of the University’s branch of One Michigan — a youth-led organization that advocates for the DREAM Act. About 60 people attended the event held in the Michigan League. Several people spoke about the legislation that would give six-year residency and an opportunity at citizenship to undocumented students who graduated high school in the United States and attend an American college or serve in the U.S. military for two years.
The DREAM Act — which would only be applicable for people who entered the United States prior to age 16 years and lived in the country for five years — was voted down by the U.S. Senate in December.
The event began with a speech from Noe Ortega, a research associate for the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. Ortega, who specializes in studies of undocumented students and higher education access, said it’s important to discuss the group of underrepresented students that the country “chooses to systematically deny” higher education.
Ortega said Michigan is estimated to have between 55,000 and 125,000 undocumented students, which makes up about 1.6 percent of the state’s total population. He said because these students are a significant part of the population, it is vital to allow them to have access to education.
Over the summer, Ortega studied 59 private institutions in Michigan. His study included four-year, two-year and private colleges and universities and analyzed the differences involved in admittance and financial aid at each of the colleges.
Ortega said his research concluded that 22 of the institutions had “favorable policies” that allow undocumented students to attend college. In these institutions, the students have different tuition rates; some charge in-state tuition while others charge undocumented students out-of-state or international tuition. None of the schools offered federal financial aid for the students.
Public Policy and Rackham graduate student Marisol Ramos also spoke at the event and said she worked with youth groups in New York that were interested in advocating for the DREAM Act before moving to Michigan. She said she thinks the political and social climate in the United States has grown increasingly tense since Sept. 11, and America’s youth has responded by mobilizing and fighting for what they believe in.
Because of the increased security after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Ramos said, there was a shift in efforts from the creation of legislation for comprehensive immigration reform to building a border and increasing security.
Laura Corrunker, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Wayne State University, has been researching the DREAM Act for the past year and said she believes in “activist anthropology,” which she defines as giving back to the community while simultaneously conducting research.
“You get a chance to give back, especially to the people who are so willing to give you their time,” Corrunker said.
She added that when people hear real-life stories from undocumented citizens, they are more inclined to pay attention to issues like the DREAM act, which is why events like the one held last night are so important in garnering support for the issue.
Jose Franco, co-founder of One Michigan, said learning about the DREAM Act gave him something to fight for. Growing up undocumented, Franco said he realized it would be hard to attend college, so he stopped attending school and let his grades slip. Upon learning about the DREAM Act, he realized he could change the direction his life was heading.
After corresponding with other undocumented students online, he organized the Michigan DREAM Camp last year, which spurred the creation of One Michigan. He said the program allows youth to be honest about their legal status.
“If people know about your status, you’re safer because more people can help you,” Franco said.