Imagine standing on the stage of your high school graduation ceremony, wondering if you would ever see America again.
Such is the case with thousands of undocumented students across the nation, including some enrolled at CSU.
In 2001, Congress considered but rejected the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, DREAM Act. This bill would have allowed students here illegally to pursue higher education and permanent legal residency.
The legislation has bipartisan origins. Sens. Charles Hagel, R-NE, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, were original sponsors of the bill along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. on Oct. 18, 2008.
Then, Sen. Dubrin reintroduced the legislation in 2009 as Senate Bill 729, which stalled in the U.S. Senate after an unsuccessful attempt to attach it to the annual defense authorization bill.
As Durbin continues to push for the billâ€™s passage, a CSU administrator said that if passed, the university would neither investigate the immigration status of its students nor expel any students discovered to have illegal status.
The DREAM Act in detail
Working with the Colorado Immigrants Rights coalition, Mayra Soto would hear tales of undocumented persons living with the fear of deportation.
â€œYou hear their stories, and you know how hard it is. They make you cry â€“â€“ you canâ€™t even sit through it,â€ said Soto, an officer of La Raza, a CSU organization that raises awareness about Mexican-American and Hispanic issues.
The DREAM Act would offer permanent resident status to undocumented students if:
- They entered the United States before the age of 16,
- Were present in the country for five years before the enactment of the bill,
- Had graduated from a U.S. high school or had obtained a GED, or
- Had been accepted into an institution of higher education.
They must also have clean criminal records and not present a national security risk.
Qualified students would secure a conditional residency status of six years and be eligible for citizenship after the end of that period if they completed two years of college or served two years in the military.
While undocumented students could not apply for federal Pell Grants, they could file for other forms of federal aid and would be eligible to pay in-state tuition at public universities like CSU.
If passed, the legislation would repeal a 1996 federal law that prohibits any state from offering in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens.
University officials have not said whether CSU supports the bill.
â€œAs an institution, the university hasnâ€™t taken a stand on it,â€ said Mary Ontiveros, vice president for Diversity and associate vice president for the Division of Enrollment and Access.
Ontiveros said that undocumented students are admitted to CSU through the standard process, which requires an individual to pay the processing fee, submit a high school transcript, either ACT or SAT scores and an essay.
â€œIf a student, academically, is deemed admissible to the university, then they are admitted,â€ she said, adding that this is not the case at universities nationwide.
Tara Craig, president of the CSU College Democrats, feels the bill should become law to help children who had no part in the decision made by their parents to illegally immigrate to America.
â€œWeâ€™re punishing them for something that they had no control over,â€ she said.
It seems wrong to deport students who are contributing members of society, Craig added.
La Raza President Mayra Granados said that, under the current system, even the most qualified undocumented students are turned away from college.
â€œI know plenty of students that I went to high school with that were undocumented, and they graduated above our honor students,â€ she said. College wasnâ€™t an option for these students, though, because expenses were too high and loans unavailable.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, and Mark Udall, both support the bill as do Reps. Jared Polis, D-2, and Diana DeGette, D-1.
The Fort Collins Tea Party has also hailed the DREAM Act as a good way for undocumented students to contribute to the American economy.
Further information from a 1999 Research and Development Corporation, or RAND, study suggests the U.S. economy benefits from a college-educated Hispanic population, the main demographic affected by the legislation.
The study says Hispanic women with a college degree contribute $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in criminal and welfare expenses compared with high school drop outs. The figures also show that the DREAM Act would benefit the U.S. financial system by more than $10,000 per person.
Other conservative organizations, however, have not been supportive.
Groups like Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, ALIPAC, have called the DREAM Act the Nightmare Act, saying itâ€™s an unsustainable measure that slaps law-abiding taxpayers in the face.
â€œThis legislation would replace American students in the limited seats in college at taxpayer expense,â€ said William Gheen, an ALIPAC spokesman. ALIPAC will try to stop the Senate from passing it in the future.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, said undocumented students would place too serious a strain on the lives of documented students if the DREAM Act passes.
â€œFor every illegal immigrant admitted to a university, an American student or legal resident would be turned away at a time when every state university is raising tuition, and many are curtailing enrollment,â€ he said in a Sept. 12 press release.
But as Phyllis Chacon, El Centro Hispanic student services graduate assistant and doctoral student argues, a human element to the issue also exists on the side of the undocumented.
â€œYou have little children in school, and then you have parents gone â€“â€“ theyâ€™re just gone. And then itâ€™s a burden on whoâ€™s going to take care of that child,â€ she said, referring to the cost of higher education and challenge of receiving financial aid.
Staff writer Andrew Carrera can be reached at email@example.com.
DREAM Act by the Numbers
Undocumented students graduate from high school each year and would be eligible under the DREAM Act for conditional status and eventual permanent status.
Individuals with an associateâ€™s degree would be immediately eligible for conditional legal permanent residency status.
Potential beneficiaries would be immediately eligible for conditional status because they already have a high school diploma or GED (and would have the incentive to complete two years of college or two years of military service to be eligible for permanent status).
Children under 18 could be eligible for conditional, legal permanent residency status in the future under the DREAM Act, which would provide them with incentives to finish high school and pursue a post-secondary education or join the military.
(Source: Immigration Policy Center)