Beyond the Hill : Activists hold classes in Capitol to push naturalization of undocumented students
Emilio Vicente graduated high school with an acceptance from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But instead of heading off to college like most 18-year-olds, he decided to defer for a year to focus on making sure 65,000 other high school graduates could go to college.
Vicente and a group of friends founded DREAM University this summer in Washington, D.C., with the hope of persuading congressmen to vote on an act that would give immigrants more options after high school.
DREAM University ran at the Capitol from July 14 through Aug. 4, the last day of Congress’ summer 2010 session. Each day opened with students and administration dancing to the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ in front of the White House. Professors were given the option to teach whatever they wanted. Classes ranged from learning Japanese, arts and crafts, and the history of migration.
The concept evolved from an idea to hold a vigil in front of the White House in honor of undocumented immigrants barred from attending university, Vicente said.
‘The idea for DREAM U was given by a friend when we were deciding what to do to keep the DREAM Act in the mind of elected officials and regular people,’ he said.
The DREAM Act aims to make undocumented immigrants who have graduated high school or received their GED eligible for a conditional lawful permanent resident status if they have been in the country longer than five years and were younger than 16 years old upon entering. This status would be valid for six years and would allow the student to work, go to school or join the military, according to the DREAM Act website.
Students would not be eligible for federal grants, but would be eligible for work-study, loans, grants and scholarships from individual universities. The conditional element of the status would be removed after six years if the student has completed two years in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher or has served in the armed forces for two years. Congress has not yet voted on the act.
The university attracted people from all walks of life, said Vicente, who works in logistics for DREAM University.
‘There was an awesome blend of undocumented, documented, young and old people. There were undocumented students, but we also had a lot of allies who wanted to show us their support and be part of DREAM U,’ Vicente said.
There was little visible opposition to these classes, and the idea was well-received, said Julieta Garibay, who works in administration for DREAM University and has been advocating for the DREAM Act for six years.
The most difficult part of the process was obtaining permits for holding classes outside, Garibay said. The area around the White House is very strict on what is allowed, but she said DREAM U had the manpower and willingness to travel to show support.
‘Our main goal was to increase awareness, keep the issue alive and continue pressuring Congress members. Also, taking into account that some of our DREAMees cannot go to college, we figured if they deny us an education, we will build our own school,’ Garibay said.
Creating a welcoming and open environment was an important facet to the university.
‘The university opened its doors to all, especially undocumented youth, who have faced so many doors closing in their lives because of their immigration status,’ said Wooten Gough, who was heavily involved in recruiting people through Facebook and securing housing for the university event.
DREAM University hopes to open again within the next couple of weeks, Vicente said. Organizers said they believe the event was successful because supporters of the DREAM Act were able to get media coverage and keep the DREAM Act alive in some way.
Right now, they are in the planning stages for when the recess ends to keep the message alive, Garibay said.
‘DREAM U is important to me because I believe that anyone who wants an education should be able to get it,’ Vicente said. ‘An education is what will take us out of this economic pit. I want to see my friends be able to use their degrees and be able to contribute to their communities.’
Thomas Wolfe is leaving his position as senior vice president and dean of student affairs to become the new president of Iliff School of Theology… Read more »
UPDATED: MAY 15, 4:35 p.m. Syracuse University students will soon see new living options in downtown Syracuse, after a new construction company revamps a vacant… Read more »
THEY'RE BACK: Syracuse pulls off furious comeback win against Yale to return to final four after longest absence since 1979
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Brian Megill sprinted over to Dominic Lamolinara and catapulted into his arms. The game was over. The unthinkable was no longer… Read more »