California Lutheran University sent out a petition urging Congress to move forward in DREAM Act legislation Feb. 24, collecting over 125 signatures from Cal Lutheran students and faculty in support of the bipartisan bill.
The petition was drafted and organized by Juanita Hall, the senior director of Multicultural and International Programs, and was originally scheduled to be mailed to state and federal legislatures Feb. 17, but was delayed because of extreme weather conditions.
The DREAM Act, known legally as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, is a piece of bipartisan legislation first introduced Congressionally in 2001 under the Bush Administration.
According to the American Immigration Council, the DREAM Act would “give undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children a pathway to legal citizenship through college or the armed services.”
After first being introduced in the Senate in August 2001, the bill has failed to pass both houses of Congress and has been reintroduced many times, but to no avail. California enacted its own DREAM Act in 2011 under Gov. Jerry Brown.
Hall drafted the petition to push Congress toward increased action on the bill, in hopes that enough support from students and faculty will be part of the weight that swings the scale toward future ratification, she said.
Hall said the petition asks for “legislation that grants otherwise law-abiding, undocumented students and military members the right to remain in the U.S. while comprehensive immigration reforms are passed.”
“We really do need to deal with the immigration situation,” Hall said. “And we don’t want our students and their families terrorized by an immigration force that is out there sending away people who had nothing to do with being brought [to the U.S.].”
The element of the bill that details the rights of the child who was brought to the U.S. should evoke empathy for the families of undocumented students, Hall said.
She said she believes that the intentions of families who have immigrated to the United States are rooted in “supporting themselves where the chance at a better life is greater” than where they came from.
“These are people that contribute to our society, for the most part in a very positive way, and who want the same opportunity,” Hall said. “And by what, reason of birth? Why would we criminalize people who just didn’t happen to be born here? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Because the DREAM Act has yet to pass both houses of Congress, undocumented students that were brought to the U.S. as children are currently eligible for consideration of a two-year period of deferred action from deportation. Formally known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the policy was enacted by the Obama Administration in June 2012 and does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship.
The Obama-era policy has been under scrutiny from the Trump Administration recently, but was signaled to remain intact Feb. 21 despite White House threats to repeal the policy within the first weeks of presidency.
Matt Ward, the vice president of University Enrollment Management and Marketing, is involved in the admission of California DREAM Act students to Cal Lutheran undergraduate and graduate programs. He said that students who are covered under the act have access to grants from state government and the public education system as state residents. Ward said there are 26 students who are eligible for DREAM Act protection at Cal Lutheran.
“Under this policy, students will be able to access our institution with less vulnerability,” Ward said. “They’re already very vulnerable and it was a big metaphoric sigh of relief for [Cal Lutheran students] in 2012 because it gave them legitimacy in society.”
Ward said the long-term effects of students covered under DACA could involve an educated workforce that would contribute to society economically, politically and socially in the form of military servicemen and women as well as unions. Ward said the current political climate has created anxiety in Cal Lutheran students covered under DACA, because “it is a question of renewal or non-renewal.”
“This has been a question for attorneys, immigration officials and policy-makers to look at because it’s been difficult to predict what will come out of this administration,” Ward said. “It’s a risk for our students.”
Ward said Cal Lutheran is in contact with immigration lawyers that will help advise students protected under DACA and the California DREAM Act in their rights and status considering the recent White House discussion of the policy.
The DREAM Act gives students who were brought to the United States a pathway to higher education and legal status. Paloma Vargas, assistant biology professor and Hispanic-Serving Institute coordinator, said that Cal Lutheran’s role as an HSI acts in the same way in that the university “systematically removes the barriers that block under-represented students from having an equitable chance at success.”
“What, as an institution, can we do to provide more guidance for students of under-represented populations,” Vargas said. “I think it’s really important as we move forward as an institution to think about the fabric of the demographic around us. We want to reflect those demographics.”
Hall’s petition was signed by over 125 students and faculty members, and was sent to Congresswoman Julia Brownley, the representative for the 26th District of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
By Olivia Schouten