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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Fast for DREAM Act

Students, advocates, and leaders across the country joined forces last week, fasting in support of legislation that would facilitate access to higher education for undocumented immigrant youth. As a demonstration of solidarity, the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) hosted a discussion at the Mauricio Gaston Institute on the tenth floor of UMass Boston’s Healey Library last Wednesday.

The talk, featuring at-large Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo, a representative from the Boston Parent Organizing Network, and an East Boston High School student, centered on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2003.

“It’s an important issue for students through out Boston, through out the state,” said MIRA executive director and event moderator, Ali Noorani. “So many students who came here with their parents five, ten years ago are now coming to college. And at UMass Boston they’re having to pay $10,000 for out of state tuition rates…They, and their families, have been in the state for years, so that for all intent and purposes they are residents of the state. It means a lot for students at UMass in order to increase access to higher education.”

The legislation, introduced July 30 of last year, would amend previous immigration reform policy to allow states to “determine State residency for higher education purposes and to authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term United States residents,” according to a government web site. The DREAM Act allows for a “six-year conditional resident status” in which those applicable must obtain at least a bachelor’s degree from a U.S institution of higher education. If the applicant meets this and other requirements, the option for permanent resident status would be available.

UMB undergraduate student Senate Vice President Fritz Hyppolite was among those in attendance. “Education is important for everyone who’s here, that’s regardless of whether you’re a citizen or not,” said Hyppolite. “I associate with and have friends who are students at this school, and students who have graduated high school, who aren’t citizens yet and have trouble getting access to higher education because of that.”

A hungry Hyppolite, who admits to an active appetitite, was among those participating in the liquid-diet fast for this cause. “I am fasting for the day,” he said. “I’m usually hungry all the time so I’m feeling kind of under the weather, but to me it’s important enough to do.” Fellow undergraduate senate member and President Adnan Usman and UMB associate professor Luis Aponte-Pares joined the student senate vice president, who had only a milkshake for breakfast, as those scheduled to participate in the national day of fasting.

“The DREAM Act, because it effects so many students, in my opinion, it’s something that’s not just an issue -it’s something that should be a given. Especially if you subscribe to the belief that education is one of the key cornerstones of our society, then the idea of not making education easily accessible is more than problematic,” said MIRA intern and UCSC student, Sanam Jorjani. “The DREAM Act,” she continued, “has had such trouble passing through legislation, even though it has had very strong bi-partisan support nationally, is because there are only a few -but, a big few, obstacles. So regardless of this support and people coming together, and accepting that it is not a heavily financial legislation and that it creates a path to legalization [it remains stunted]. If you’re saying that students shouldn’t have access because of their immigration status, then the idea is well, then let’s help them have that immigration status.”

However, it is that granting of that status that opponents of the DREAM Act are against. Those not in favor of the immigration reform see the bill as an act of amnesty masked as an educational proposal. Challengers to the DREAM Act also fear that allowing undocumented immigrants this license would put them in direct competition with students, already citizens, for acceptance and decreasingly available financial aid at state institutions of higher education. Some see it as rewarding immigrants for entering the country illegally.

Jorjani disagrees. “We already know that they’re here to pursue education, we already know that they’re leaders in their communities,” she said. “So, for me especially, the DREAM Act is very important and the fact that it’s not getting pushed has pushed people to act has and has pushed people to make it something that people finally pay attention to. Make it something people actually see as a viable means of creating that accessibility to education for everybody.”