Skip to comments.Bill Offers Protection For Students Raised Here
Posted on 12/15/2002 10:28:30 AM PST by Reaganwuzthebest
Illegal immigrants can get degrees, then can't get jobs.
Ricardo Leyva was 11 years old when he was smuggled across the border into the United States, a place he now calls home.
Now 22, the Mexico native has been accepted to the University of California San Diego, where he wants to study medicine. But he's caught in a predicament faced by the 50,000 to 70,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools each year.
Though he could earn a college degree, Leyva can't legally work in the United States. He isn't eligible to receive federal financial aid either.
A bipartisan bill making its way through Congress could change that.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minor Act, known as the DREAM Act, would grant U.S. residency to certain undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school. Its supporters are optimistic the bill will become law, because it has influential sponsors on both sides of the aisle: Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
The bill quietly cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in June but didn't come up for a full vote. A spokeswoman for Hatch said he plans to re-introduce it when Congress reconvenes. The House of Representatives was considering a similar bill.
Students throughout the United States, led by groups such as the National Immigration Law Center, are lobbying for the legislation. Leyva, whose short, thin build and baby face make him look younger than his age, is so determined to see the bill passed that he's speaking out publicly, despite the risk of deportation.
He and another undocumented San Diego college student recently formed the Coalition of Student Advocates; set up a Web site, www.cosaonline.org and began a letter-writing campaign to President Bush and members of Congress.
"I knew what I was putting myself into by exposing myself," Leyva said about his decision to reveal his immigration status. "But I'm ready for anything. It's better to do something than to remain quiet."
The DREAM Act would apply only to young people in the United States at the time of its passage and would expire after six years. Applicants must be between 12 and 21 and have been in the country at least five years when the bill became law. Anyone with a criminal record would be excluded.
Immigrants over 21 would qualify if they obtained their high school diploma or equivalent within four years of the law's enactment and are enrolled in college or have graduated from college.
Also, the bill would make it easier for states to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. Currently only California, Texas, New York and Utah allow that.
The bill's opponents include Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who said it would reward illegal immigrants and encourage illegal immigration.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform said the federal government should not have to pay for the mistakes of parents who brought their children to the United States illegally.
"These kids are in difficult situations, but these are situations their parents put them in," said Ira Mehlman, the organization's spokesman. "We all have to live with the decisions that our parents made, good or bad."
Mehlman said the United States must be careful about helping undocumented immigrants at the expense of native-born Americans.
"When you admit someone who is here illegally you are saying no to somebody else," he said.
But in his remarks to the Judiciary Committee, Hatch said his bill will help young immigrants who came here through no choice of their own and have assimilated into the American culture.
"They attend school, participate in extracurricular activities, and even go to college," he said. "But the law denies them any chance, no matter what their individual accomplishments, to become lawful permanent residents."
Hatch cited the case of a 19-year-old University of Utah student who came here illegally at age 6 and was later abandoned by his mother. The youth overcame a drug problem and went to college, but without federal intervention he can still be deported to Mexico, a country he hardly knows.
Hatch said the Utah student and other young immigrants need to know that their education will mean something. Undocumented immigrants have a right to public education only through high school.
"We cannot sit idly by while more minds and potential go to waste," he said.
Public opinion over immigration remains sharply divided.
Earlier this year, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to investigate 18-year-old honors student Jesus Apodaca and his family after the youth was featured in a newspaper article talking about the difficulties undocumented students face when trying to go to college. The Apodacas weren't deported, but the family went into hiding because of the controversy. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., is seeking a private bill to legalize the family.
Leyva said he was shocked when he heard about the incident, because Apodaca's story is so similar to his own.
He, his mother and two younger brothers, now 18 and 19, were smuggled across the border in 1991 to join his father and other siblings in San Diego. Years later his parents separated and he and his mother, three brothers and a sister were briefly homeless.
He dropped out of school for a while but went back, took a liking to math and science, and graduated with a 3.96 grade point average from Garfield High School in 1999. "I just wanted to be somebody in life," he said.
A high school counselor helped him enroll at San Diego City College, where he studied with the help of a private scholarship, made the dean's list and participated in student government and honor clubs.
He realized a dream in September when he transferred to UCSD, where he was accepted into the bio-engineering department. But he had to withdraw after a few weeks, because he couldn't scrape together the money for his tuition.
Leyva plans to return to UCSD next month with the help of a small loan from a high school mentor. He also plans to keep lobbying for passage of the DREAM Act.
Last week he and a friend organized a workshop at City College to explain the legislation. About 50 students, most of them Latino, attended.
The lone critic in the audience was an older man who was vocal about his belief that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for services for "illegal aliens."
Leyva and his friend let the man speak his mind. Later Leyva said he used to feel guilty about his immigration status, but not anymore. He feels like he's an American. All he wants now is to make it official.
"I feel I'm deserving," he said. "I've carried myself in a manner worthy of it."
Could have fooled me. Last time I saw the polls 80% of the public want our borders closed and illegals deported. Maybe this writer is looking at a poll I haven't seen.
it's one thing if he can pay for his education himself; it's quite another to ask taxpayers to pay it for him. a lot of deserving kids pay full price for college; these are not children of "privilege," but hard-working persons who work long hours to pay for schooling.
they, too, were "deserving." i don't believe in denying opportunity, but i am sick and tired of paying for everybody else's "mistakes."
We should save our sympathies and tax dollars for those who are here legally first, then try to help those like minors in the middle.
The other argument is that a bright, young Mexican national, fluent in English, familiar with American customs, ought to be able to do a lot of good for Mexico in boosting export earnings to the U.S. Why can't he? Could it be because El Presidente Fox is more interested in preserving the oligarchial status quo than in developing the middle class which Mexico needs to emerge from the third world?
Therefore, the U.S. should push their own citizens aside to make room for Mexicans too educated to be content with being a peasant in their society, but not properly pedigreed enough to become part of the ruling oligarchy, right?
..and a certain signature awaiting in La Casa Blanca.
If he wants to work here he needs to get in line for citizenship or a legal visa..I would dare suggest that there is NO medical care in Mexico to speak of.. he needs to go home and be a doctor...
I cannot stand to watch the leaders of this great country sell it out. As far as I'm concerned, Orin Hatch is just as big a jerk as Ted Kennedy. They're two peas in a pod.
Mexico is exporting their doctors here because we don't have enough to treat the millions of their illegal aliens.
The house burns and the "solution" of Congress is to throw more gasoline on it.
That might be a good place for this aspiring illegal alien doctor to begin his practice.
I saw sick kids and old folks and LOTS of high blood pressure and they can not afford doctors or meds..
I ate in the homes of these working middle class...worse than the worst slums in this country..all that Nafta money is in the pockets of the rich and the drug dealers..
You're correct. They are stories, and they are constructed to be heartrending.
There are limitless options for kids who have (by the very definition of this proposed law) a decent American education and some sense of American values. But those options don't have to include living in America or the usurping of American law.
I agree with you that they have options in Mexico or Poland or wherever their home countries happen to be.
And if they can find a way to get into American legally, and that's what they want to do, I'm sure they can find a way to do it.
Heck, if I decided that I wanted to live in Australia, I'd go about the business of making myself suitable for Australian emigration. I wouldn't blast the Australian government and newspapers with letters about changing their laws.
Least convincing of all is the sobbing or Orin Hatch.