Over 150 people gathered at a rally in City Hall on Saturday in support of in-state tuition for undocumented college students.
The rally, which was organized by the Yale College Democrats, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) de Yale and Connecticut Students for a DREAM, was in support of the Connecticut DREAM bill, an act to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students at the state’s public colleges. The rally featured speeches from Mayor John DeStefano Jr., U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Majority Leader of the Connecticut Senate Martin Looney, along with personal accounts from four students who are illegal immigrants and are currently enrolled in colleges in the state. The rally organizers circulated petitions for the Connecticut DREAM Act within the crowd, which was composed of Yale students, students from other colleges and members of the general public.
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“Today’s not about the legislation,” Blumenthal said. “Today is about the American Dream.”
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Looney and Blumenthal both said that Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has promised that he would sign the bill if it were brought to his desk. A similar bill was passed by the state legislature in 2007, but was then vetoed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who argued that the bill would encourage illegal immigration, and that the state should wait for federal immigration reform before enacting its own in-state tuition law. Ten states already have laws providing undocumented students with in-state tuition, while South Carolina is the only state with a law banning undocumented students from attending state colleges.
“Education was the way to success in America,” said Looney, adding that undocumented students are just as “American” as his grandson, who is a third-grade student.
Blumenthal said he has supported the DREAM Act for a long time, adding that he is “very hopeful and even optimistic” that the act will be passed.
‘UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS, NOT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS’
“When I was born, my parents happened to be sitting in the United States,” Marina Keegan ’12, president of the Yale College Democrats, said at the beginning of the rally. “I didn’t choose this myself, just like children whose parents immigrated here when they were very young had no choice.”
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But some other students who spoke at the rally were not born in the U.S. — and did not enter the country legally.
Lucas Codognolla, who spoke at the rally and is a student at Norwalk Community College, came to Connecticut from Brazil in 2000.
“The DREAM means so much more than getting an education,” he said. “It means making my parents proud; it means I won’t have to work three jobs to pay for college; it means I’ll one day get to work in the non-profit sector.”
Codognolla said he was student body president at Westhill High School in Stamford, where he graduated in 2009 with a 3.6 grade-point average. While he said he was accepted to numerous colleges, including the University of Connecticut, they were too expensive for him to attend. He was also accepted to another college he chose not to name, which gave him a “full-ride” and then took it away after realizing he was an undocumented student.
Maria Praeli, who is a current junior at New Milford High School, said she has lived in Connecticut ever since her family came from Peru when she was five.
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“All your life, your community tells you that you can,” she said. “You grow up thinking you’re invincible.”
But then, she said, she learned when she was 16 that she could not get a driver’s license or apply for a job. While all of her classmates were excited to apply to college, she said she realized she probably would not be able to afford higher education.
“Because of my illegal status, I feel defeated,” she said. “Being undocumented does not mean I won’t grow up to be someone.”
But Mariano Cardosa, a student at Capital Community College, is nearing the end of his education sooner than he thought.
Cardosa, who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 22 months since coming from Mexico and is now 22 years old, was just issued a voluntary 30-day departure. Though scheduled to graduate with a degree in engineering, Cardosa will be deported before he is able to finish.
“Nobody wants to be a wasted talent,” he said, adding that, “These are the streets I grew up in.”
STUDENTS FOR STUDENTS
“We want to show the state that it’s not just the undocumented student community who care about this,” said Keegan. “It’s all students in Connecticut.”
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Keegan added that she expected that the students’ involvement would generate a greater effect on legislators when they see news of the rally.
Blumenthal said Saturday he was “inspired” by the dedication of the students in planning the rally.
But student efforts to help and defend the rights of undocumented students extend far beyond the rally.
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“I’m taking a risk, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Lorella Praeli, Maria Praeli’s sister who is a senior at Quinnipiac University and is also undocumented, said of her decision to speak out about her undocumented status. “Our history reflects that nothing changes without people working for it.”
Diana Enriquez ’13, a member of MEChA, said the organization has long been involved in supporting the Connecticut DREAM Act. She added that Jennifer Angarita ’10, who was moderator of the organization last year, attempted to create a group called Yalies for a DREAM, which she said never truly “took off.”
Enriquez said that MEChA has worked extensively to assist the undocumented students currently studying at Yale. She added that the group is trying to make counseling services for these students more accessible, as she said they face problems other students do not typically encounter.
“What makes this so important is that it’s personal,” Alejandro Gutierrez ’13, a MEChA member, said, adding that many MEChA members have friends or family who are undocumented.
The Yale College Democrats will be in Hartford on Wednesday for a lobby day.