Aldermen support DREAM Act

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Photo by Alon Harish.

The fight to pass a Connecticut version of the DREAM Act took a small step forward at the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night.

At a joint meeting of the Education and Human Services Committees, aldermen unanimously recommended the Board’s approval of a resolution urging state legislators to pass a law making undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. While the national DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) bill fell five senators short of passage in the U.S. Senate’s lame duck session in December, the election of Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy has given Connecticut supporters of the bill hope that a statewide version will pass.

The bill, which was introduced by State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat representing New Haven, would make all students who live in Connecticut, graduate from a Connecticut high school and enroll at a state college or university eligible for in-state tuition. In-state tuition at the University of Connecticut for the 2010-2011 academic year is $8,064, compared to $24,528 for out-of-state tuition, which is what undocumented students currently pay.

Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. expressed his support of the aldermanic resolution in an email.

“If you live in Connecticut and successfully graduate from a high school here, you should be able to go to a state college or university and pay the same as your neighbor regardless of your immigration status,” DeStefano said. “This is good for New Haven, good for Connecticut and necessary for our nation’s economy.”

The state legislature passed a similar bill in 2007, but Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed it. In her veto message, Rell argued that the bill would do nothing to address the underlying legal problems with students’ immigration status and that the state should wait for federal immigration reform before enacting its own in-state tuition law. Furthermore, she argued, the bill would encourage circumvention of federal immigration law.

Adam Joseph, the city’s lobbyist in Hartford, said Connecticut should not fall behind the ten other states with in-state tuition laws.

New York, Illinois, California, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and New Mexico all have state laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state schools. South Carolina, by contrast, is the only state with a law banning undocumented students from attending state colleges and universities.

State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a New Haven Democrat, said Monday that the bill is a common sense measure and would likely be a financial benefit to the budgets of state schools by expanding the pool of students who are able to attend.

According to a December report by the Office of Legislative Research, a Connecticut in-state tuition law would result in a revenue loss for the University of Connecticut but a revenue gain for the Connecticut State University system and the state’s community colleges.

The bill is simply the right thing to do, Holder-Winfield said.

During his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama, who supported the failed national DREAM bill, urged Congress to support the education of children of undocumented immigrants. These children “had nothing to do with the actions of their parents,” Obama said. “They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag.”

At the aldermanic meeting the previous day, Holder-Winfield said, “children don’t get a second childhood.”

“Do we want a good education for all our children?” the state-representative asked.

Also in attendance at the meeting Tuesday night was Claudia Antunes, founder of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, an intercollegiate Latina sorority. Antunes, a graduate of the University of New Haven who works at Yale-New Haven Hospital, testified before the aldermen at the Tuesday night meeting.

“I was lucky enough to be born here, but a lot of my friends and their families were not,” Antunes said. “I know the struggles of growing up, working your butt off to get somewhere, even getting valedictorian in your class, and then when it comes time to go to college, you can’t.”

Her emotional testimony drew loud applause from the dozen or so students representing the Yale College Democrats in attendance at the Board of Aldermen.

Beau Wittmer ’13, the Dems’ lobbying coordinator, said the Dems are partnering with other student organizations, including MEChA (Movimiento Estudantil Chicano de Azatlan) and Connecticut Students for a DREAM, in lobbying for the bill’s passage in Hartford.

Wittmer said the Dems are waiting to find out from the Connecticut General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee where the bill will first be heard and when public hearings on the bill will take place. The Dems will try to recruit as many Yale students as they can to come to the hearings, Wittmer said.

Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro, who represents a part of Fair Haven, said the bill is in the same spirit as the municipal ID card program the city implemented in 2007. The Elm City Resident Card program gives all residents, regardless of immigration status, a form of identification that can be used to borrow library books and open a bank account.

According to a National League of Cities estimate, 10,000 to 15,000 New Haven residents are undocumented immigrants and about 70,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Connecticut.

Ward 11 Alderwoman Maureen O’Sullivan-Best, who abstained, declined to comment on why she did not vote to recommend the resolution. During the meeting, however, she asked Reyes what the bill would do to address the difficulties students would face in the job market without documentation.

Reyes said he does not know.

Chair of the Human Services Committee, Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, said the resolution recommended by the committees Tuesday night would be voted on by the full Board of Aldermen during their second meeting in February.

The meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22.

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