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Students push for Dream Act bill

Molly Madden | Tuesday, February 2, 2010

As illegal immigration is a prominent political issue today, some students are making efforts to support a bill that proposes providing education for undocumented children.

A group of Notre Dame students involved in “La Colectiva,” a group made up of college and high school students in the area, are working to raise awareness for the Dream Act and push for its passage into law.

The Dream Act, or Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, is an attempt by lawmakers to secure education and future opportunities for children of undocumented workers living in the United States.

“The Dream Act opens up opportunities to students who, because of the way our current laws are set up, are not given the same opportunities of other students because of choices their parents made,” La Colectiva member senior Hector Avitia said.

La Colectiva was formed this year as a means to support the Dream Act while the bill is currently under review in Congress.

“We are in the beginning stages of the group formation,” junior Bilma Canales, a member of La Colectiva, said. “Right now we’re discussing different ways to bring as much awareness as possible to the importance of the Dream Act. We’re planning on holding events, creating brochures and we’re talking to some government representatives about receiving their support.”

If passed, the Dream Act will allow individuals who meet certain requirements to enlist in the military or go to college, something they are not able to do under current legislation.

“It’s unfair that that qualified students can’t attend college when they are capable of succeeding,” Canales said.

The Dream Act would also set up these children and young adults on a path for potential United States legal citizenship with certain stages where they are granted conditional residency, permanent residency and then legal citizenship.

“There are strict guidelines about the qualifications for receiving the various stages of citizenship,” Avitia said.

Individuals who would qualify for these provisions under the new legislation if the Dream Act passes would have to meet specific guidelines in order to receive the benefits of the law, such as being younger than 16 when they arrived in the United States.

Canales said the guidelines will mainly benefit the children who were brought to the United States as undocumented immigrants because of their parents’ decision to enter the country.

“These kids can’t go to school under the current law,” she said. “They’re being punished when they didn’t have control over the decision to come to the United States.”

The Dream Act has special significance for Avitia, who arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1990 and was undocumented until 1996 when his family qualified for residency under the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

“I’m one of the lucky few that got to receive permanent residency,” he said. “I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t received that status; I wouldn’t have been able to attend Notre Dame.”

Avitia and Canales both know young people who are undocumented but would qualify for the provisions of the Dream Act if is made into law.

“A lot of people don’t know about the Dream Act,” Canales said. “But it’s really important to raise awareness because a lot more Latinos are going to be in school and on the path to citizenship if this passes.”

Avitia said his own past experiences have a huge effect on the way he views the current situation of the undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“I want these people to receive the same opportunity that I have,” he said.