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Support of Congressional bill debated

John Tierney | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Student government may move to actively support the DREAM Act, a United States Senate bill that would open the doors of higher education to children of illegal immigrants, based on a discussion Tuesday at the Council of Representatives (COR).

“Maris and I are leaning toward taking this up,” student body president Liz Brown said at the beginning of the discussion of whether or not the student body should be mobilized to support the bill.

While Brown was in favor of supporting the bill, many COR members were less willing to put their names behind political legislation.

“I don’t feel like I know enough of the other side of this act. It would be important to survey the student body,” chief executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil said.

Junior class president Bob Reish also shared his hesitation with the council.

“It’s not as easy as us saying, ‘We’re all for it so let’s do it,'” Reish said. “I worry about saying this is the right thing.”

Under the provisions of the DREAM Act, people who illegally entered the United States more than five years ago – and who were 15 years or younger at the time – would be eligible for a six-year conditional residency status to allow them to attend college or serve in the military, according to the National Immigration Law Center. During these six years, the person would be expected to graduate from a two-year college, complete at least two years toward a four-year degree or serve in the military for two full years. Permanent residence would be granted to the student if any of these three conditions were met.

The National Immigration Law Center said every year about 65,000 high school graduates meet the DREAM Act’s eligibility requirements. These students often face barriers getting into college as a result of their citizenship status.

While many students may not agree with student government’s support of a political issue, student body vice president Maris Braun said that doing the right thing is more important than learning about student opinion of the bill.

“This is a time-sensitive act. As much as I’m all for establishing consensus, we might just have to do the best thing and the right thing,” she said. “I just worry we’re going to run out of time.”

Some COR members expressed a desire to provide students with an outlet to express their views on the DREAM Act before student representatives endorse the bill on behalf of the entire student body.

Plamoottil said there are other ways in which student government can bring attention to the DREAM Act and make a difference that does not require the council’s full-fledged backing of the bill.

“There’s a difference between saying ‘We as Notre Dame support this’ versus saying ‘Here are the resources if you want to support this,'” Plamoottil said.

Braun brought up the significance of supporting the DREAM Act in a Catholic setting.

“We’re called to follow Catholic social teaching,” she said.

Judicial council president Ashley Weiss, however, thinks supporting the legislation for religious reasons might cross a line.

“We’re not all Catholic,” she said. “But we are all taxpayers. We must inform the student body before we go through with this.”

In the latter half of the debate, it became apparent that COR members would not agree on a specific course of action regarding the DREAM Act bill.

“There’s definitely not a consensus in the council,” Sorin senator George Chamberlain said. “We should try to look for another, more definite means to gauge the opinion of the student body.”

Sophomore class president Grant Schmidt said the council doesn’t necessarily have to come to a consensus but rather “provide an opportunity for people who support it.”

Some COR members were uncertain about the precedent that taking action on behalf of the DREAM Act would set. Adopting a firm stance on this particular bill could open the door to future student government endorsements of other causes.

“There are so many other good issues we could talk about in the world, and in our country. Would we be setting a precedent?” Lyons senator Kelly Kanavy said.

Late in the discussion, some council members agreed it would be up to the Student Senate to decide whether or not it will endorse the bill. However, Reish does not think that turning the issue over to Senate would produce any resolutions.

“This is getting nowhere [in COR], and it won’t get anywhere in Senate either,” he said.

Club Coordination Council president Paul Robbins said he believes it’s important to generate discussion and take a stance, even without the full support of the student body.

“People look to us for leadership,” he said.

Robbins also expressed an opinion that a heated discussion of the DREAM Act would not necessarily be a bad thing for the campus.

“I want to read something more important in The Observer than what their comic strips are about,” he said.

Student government director of communications Will Kearney agreed with Robbins and said the dialogue that could arise from the representatives’ backing of the DREAM Act would be beneficial to the University’s intellectual life.

“We should let people fight it out a bit and see what goes on,” Kearney said.

Brown, who kept quiet for much of the debate, is in favor of doing something in support of the DREAM Act.

“I am in agreement with some of you that it’s important to take a stand on issues,” she said. “Sometimes you need to take a stand because you believe it’s right.”

She cited former University President Father Hesburgh’s support of controversial issues such as the civil rights movement as a precedent within the University for taking action.

In other COR news:

– Jackie Sheridan, the co-chair for Alcohol Awareness Week, announced that it will take place the week following Fall Break.