A proposed law that would give undocumented young people a chance to become U.S. citizens is getting renewed attention this week as hundreds of college students court lawmakers' support in Washington, D.C.
Many immigrant students have pinned their hopes to the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. It would provide a path to citizenship for college students who came to this country as children, have been in the U.S. at least five years and have not been in trouble.
The bill would eliminate the fear of deportation and legal roadblocks they face while seeking college degrees and jobs, immigrant students say. They also hope it would provide uniformity nationwide for undocumented students applying for colleges across state lines.
"It would be amazing. It would just be a dream come true," said Jovan, an undocumented 20-year-old student at Texas Wesleyan University. He has hoped for passage of the bill since he attended high school.
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This week marks a push for the bill by immigration advocates. Hundreds of young people have traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge lawmakers to vote for it and participate in rallies and sit-ins. Among proponents are students from the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of North Texas, Tarrant County College and Texas Wesleyan University.
Many undocumented students see themselves as U.S. residents because they were raised here. Many were brought illegally to this country as children by their parents from countries such as Mexico, the Philippines and Brazil.
"We don't want our education to go to waste," said Nicole, 19, an undocumented student attending UT-Arlington, speaking from Washington. "We go to school. We give back to our community."
Undocumented students in Texas can pay in-state tuition if they meet certain criteria, including graduating from a Texas high school and living in the state for at least three years leading up to graduation. They can also apply for state financial aid, though many have to rely on scholarships. But they are shut out of federal student loans, Nicole said.
The DREAM Act would give them legal status so they can work within the laws after getting a degree.
Opponents said it would be equal to amnesty, protecting undocumented students at the expense of American students. The concerns include whether there are enough federal education dollars to spend on students born in foreign countries.
"Every dollar that is being spent on benefits to illegal aliens is a dollar that is being taken out of the pockets of American taxpayers and not being given to American citizens," said David Rogers, assistant general counsel for the Austin-based Texas Legal Foundation. The foundation is representing the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas in a lawsuit against the state's tuition policy toward undocumented immigrants.
The DREAM Act has garnered bipartisan support in Congress but has never made it to the floor for a vote.
Area advocates said the bill is one piece of immigration reform that many people can support. On Tuesday, presidents from colleges and universities in Virginia, Washington, Texas and California stressed their support in a conference call.
"I believe the momentum we have will be a final push to show the government that we believe this piece of legislation should be passed immediately," Nicole said.
Undocumented students say they are earning degrees with hard work and persistence. At Texas Wesleyan, a private school, several students say they feel welcome.
"We have always worked hard to help any student who has the drive and ambition to pursue and obtain a college degree," said Chuck Burton, spokesman for the university. He added that Texas has made provisions for this group of students to access higher education, explaining that they can file for state financial aid.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675