by Félix Pérez
Leaders, faculty and students at America’s colleges and universities — joining a growing movement of educators, students, parents, community leaders and religious figures — are speaking out on the pressing need for common sense immigration reform, arguing that inaction robs bright, highly motivated DREAMer students of the chance to pursue their aspirations and help advance the nation’s economy.
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More than 75 higher education institutions held events and rallies on campuses across the country last Friday to call on Congress to pass legislation. The “Day of Action” took place in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
In a letter to their higher education colleagues, Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, and David Skorton, president of Cornell University, wrote:
Many foreign-born students arrived in our country as children but are prevented from attending college because of their undocumented status. As we deny young people in our country who are qualified to attend college access to higher education, we deny our country the talent we very much need.
Some 60,000 DREAMer students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. The bipartisan immigration legislation introduced by the “Gang of Eight” senators last week contains a provision that provides a five-year path to citizenship for DREAMers who arrived in the United Sates before the age of 16 and have completed high school or earned a GED.
The bill, also known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, makes improvements on current law by prioritizing family unification and increasing training, personnel and resources for immigration courts. Individuals in the United States prior to December 31, 2011, will have a 13-year pathway to citizenship provided they pass a background check, show a grasp of basic English, and pay any assessed tax liability, fees and a $500 fine.
Higher education officials point out that the costs to the economy of our broken immigration system are profound. More than three out of every four patents (76%) that the top 10 U.S. patent-producing universities received in 2011 had an immigrant inventor.
The Day of Action came three days before Monday’s Senate hearing on the legislation. The lone DREAMer to testify at the committee hearing was Gaby Pacheco, who wants to be a teacher. Pacheco has three education degrees and plans to open a music therapy center for children with mental disabilities.
“My family reflects the diversity and beauty of America. We are part of a strong working class; a mixed-status family who are your neighbors, classmates, fellow parishioners, consumers, and part of the fabric of this nation,” Pacheco told the senators.
Pacheco, the highest ranking junior ROTC student at her Florida high school and former president of Florida’s junior college student government, was singled out by Senator Dick Durbin, Ill., for her years-long advocacy on behalf of DREAMer students across the country and in the halls of Congress. “Gaby Pacheco has been such an important part of this effort on passing the DREAM Act,” said Durbin, whose mother emigrated from Lithuania. “The DREAM Act is where it is because of the courage of young people like yourself.”