by Félix Pérez
Sensible, fair and comprehensive immigration reform for millions of students and their families appears to be closer to reality than at any time in recent history.
President Barack Obama added to the growing momentum in Congress yesterday when he addressed the issue before hundreds of students, educators, parents, business owners, and community and elected officials gathered at El Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev.
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President Obama’s remarks came on the heels of a legislative blueprint released Monday by a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system, including carving out a faster path to citizenship for students and young immigrants who came here as children and reforming the family reunification process. Both Obama and the “Gang of Eight” agree that a reformed pathway to citizenship must be coupled with stronger enforcement.
Just as he did at his inaugural remarks this month, President Obama made note of the importance of immigration reform to hundreds of thousands hard-working, law-abiding students. He told a story about Alan Aleman, a second-year student at the College of Southern Nevada. Aleman was one of the first young people in Nevada to get approved to live and work legally in the United States for at least two years under President’s Obama Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Said President Obama:
Alan’s studying to become a doctor. He hopes to join the Air Force. He’s working hard, every single day, to build a better life for himself and his family. And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America.
Sen. John McCain, former Republican presidential nominee and one of the Gang of Eight, said, “We cannot forever have children who were born here — who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows, as well. So I think the time is right.”
Rubén Murillo, a special education teacher in Las Vegas, welcomed the push by the president and the senators.
“For me it’s a social justice issue,” said Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association. “It’s an issue for our students in terms of whether they can pursue their potential and whether their parents have the ability to support and get involved in their children’s education without fear of reprisal. It’s a win-win situation for students and teachers, who give so much to helping their students learn and succeed only to see their access to an education blocked.”
Dennis Van Roekel, Arizona high school math teacher and president of the National Education Association, pledged the NEA’s support in working with President Obama.
As educators, we have witnessed for far too long the impact that the current immigration system has had on our students, their families, and our communities. We join the growing chorus of voices calling on lawmakers to create a common-sense immigration process for aspiring Americans, one that includes a roadmap for new Americans to become citizens.
We are pleased that the vision that President Obama outlined reflects our values and our rich tradition of embracing people who move to make life better for themselves and their families. We see them every day in our classrooms, schools, and our communities. They are our students, friends, and our neighbors.
The Senate will hold its first immigration reform hearing on February 13.