The U.S. Senate’s vote today on the DREAM Act, which would allow some undocumented students to become permanent residents, could be life-changing for Yalies in legal limbo.
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That’s the argument that a group of Yale students has been making to lawmakers this week. The group, “Yalies for a DREAM,” has ramped up its efforts to get the bill passed by organizing phone banks and collecting testimonials from undocumented students. University President Richard Levin lent them his support Monday, saying he hopes that the DREAM Act becomes law — making his first public statement on the matter after declining to do so in the past.
“In my view anyone who has the ability and determination to complete college is the kind of person we should welcome to stay in our great country,” Levin said.
If passed, the DREAM Act would allow students of “good moral character” who have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and lived in the country for five consecutive years to apply for permanent residence if they graduated from high school, obtained a GED or have been accepted to college. It is being considered as an amendment to a defense authorization bill, along with a proposal to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars gays from openly serving in the military.
The University’s lobbyist, Richard Jacob, has agreed to ask Connecticut senators to speak on behalf of the amendment on the senate floor, said “Yalies for a DREAM” organizer Elizabeth Gonzalez ’11.
Last year, three representatives of “Yalies for a DREAM” spoke to Jacob and Levin, asking the University president to express public support for the bill. Although the presidents of Harvard and Princeton had made formal statements in support of the DREAM Act, Levin declined to join them.
Gonzalez said Levin told the students at the time that he does not express public support for bills that do not have clear deadlines and he might face criticism from alumni. In response, Yalies for a DREAM started an online petition last spring, that has received 235 signatures. The group asked Levin for public support again on Monday.
In a statement, Levin went one step further, giving support for more broad immigration reform.
“Like many others,” he said, “I would prefer that the DREAM Act be considered as part of comprehensive immigration legislation. But it is unclear when or if such legislation will be taken up, and it is important that Congress act on this issue soon.”
Some senators say the proposal would reward people who broke the law. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he will filibuster the defense bill if either amendment is attached.
Twenty-three Yalies, representing six separate student organizations, participated in a phone bank in the Women’s Center on Friday, making more than 500 calls to 20 key senators, said organizer Amalia Skilton ’13.
“Kids brought here should have a legal process to become citizens,” said Isaac Bloch ’12, who participated in the phone bank. “I think it’s fundamentally a human rights issue.”
Yalies for a DREAM has also been working with a student group at Harvard University called “Act on a Dream” to collect and edit testimonials from students who came to the United States illegally as children. Gonzalez said so far three Yale students, 10 Harvard students and several more at Brown and Columbia Universities have told their stories.
“These packets will be distributed to senators’ offices and allow them to see who is an undocumented student and who is going to be affected by the DREAM Act,” Gonzalez said.
Students who were brought illegally into the United States as children are in difficult dilemmas because they cannot apply for citizenship without revealing their undocumented status, she added.
The issue as it affects student in the Ivy League gained publicity this summer when Harvard student Eric Balderas was arrested and nearly deported to Mexico. With support from the Harvard administration, the university’s law clinic and “Act on a DREAM,” he remains in the United States.
Scott Elfenbein, a leading organizer of “Act on a Dream,” said his organization wants to bring national attention to the plight of undocumented students. He added that the group is working with Harvard faculty to get celebrities to support their cause.
“It’s really important to bring awareness to this issue to the public,” Elfenbein said. “It can happen at a community college; it can happen at Harvard.”
The DREAM act first appeared as a stand-alone bill but was voted down by the Senate in 2007.