Brandishing signs as they stopped at 5-C dining halls, students from the DREAM Act Coalition marched across the Claremont Colleges Wednesday to raise awareness for immigration legislation before Congress.
The rally was the first in a string of planned monthly awareness events intended to whip up support for the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students a path toward citizenship and allow undocumented minors to attend college.
Coalition founder and organizer Becca Russell-Einhorn PO ’12, acknowledging the touchiness of immigration reform, said it was important to engage students and garner fresh interest in the issue.
“A lot of people just don’t know about the DREAM Act, and that’s the biggest thing we’re combating right now,” Russell-Einhorn said. “When people hear about it, it’s kind of a no-brainer for them.”
Russell-Einhorn spent her summer learning about the act through her work at Campus Progress, where she gained perspective first-hand from the founders of dreamactivist.org, which supports the bill. During the first week of the academic year, she set up a table at Smith Campus Center to raise awareness by handing out pamphlets and door signs, selling t-shirts, and encouraging students to participate in the rally.
Members from outside the 5Cs joined in the march as well, including students from University of La Verne and Chino High School. Many participants knew or were themselves undocumented immigrants.
“They’re a hidden part of our community,” said coalition member Ali Standish PO ’12.
Critics of the bill have said that the law would further encourage illegal immigration, limit opportunities for native-born citizens, and shift the burdens of illegal youth immigration from immigrants to the U.S. government.
The most recent version of the act applies to undocumented students who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, lived here for the last five years, graduated from a high school here or obtained a GED, served in the military or attended college for two years, and had “good moral character.”
“It’s a very narrow tailored bill that really only addresses the situations of a fraction of the 12 million undocumented workers,” said Will Perez, an assistant professor of education at the Claremont Graduate University. Perez likened the discussion of addressing human and civil rights in the immigrant community as part of “a sort of new civil rights movement.”
Introduced into congress every two years since its inception in 2001, the act garnered weak support from a mostly Republican congress until 2006, but followers hope the recent shift in Congressional control to Democrats will result in more whole-hearted support for the act in the coming term.
While citing the social and civic benefits of passing such a bill, supporters say it has economic advantages.
“We are economically losing out on a college-educated workforce that’s not able to get full time jobs, pay taxes, and contribute to the economic base,” Perez said. “So if anything, we’re losing money by not providing a path to legalization. Because these are immigrants that aren’t going back to their homeland.”
The rally was held in conjunction with similar events throughout Southern California on that day, including ones at UCLA and Bell Gardens High School.
“Some [of the undocumented students] don’t even remember their birthplace,” said Russell-Eisenhorn. “They grow up as Americans with the American dream then all of a sudden they realize the dream doesn’t apply to them.”