Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Local students help others reach education dreams

They have a DREAM

The bleak outlook on attaining legal status can be disheartening for all immigrants, but especially for students whose status and situation are unaccounted for in the current immigration system.

"For minors as well as anyone else, especially those from Mexico and Central America, 90 percent have no way of obtaining legal status, an example of why our system doesn't work," says Mark Silverman, director of immigration policy at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center of San Francisco.

Currently, undocumented people, including minors, can become legal either through an application filed by their employer, a family member with legal status — parents, siblings and spouses — or through the foster system, but Silverman points out that these people cannot work legally.

"These students don't have the route," he says. "That's the basic, current situation."

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools in the United States every year. Without a route toward legal status, they are left with few options.

"All of these laws are technically designed for adults," says Lynette Parker, Santa Clara University clinical supervising attorney at the School of Law Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center. "The kids either fall into one of four categories or they don't. There's just not much designed for young people."

This growing group of undocumented immigrants needs to be accounted for and given a chance to give back to their communities, Parker says.

"The economy needs an influx of young people," she says. "It needs their dreams, visions and willingness to put some muscle behind them because this huge generation that's aging and retiring cannot."

Silverman agrees.

"These students are our future. It would be a shame if society would squander this future."

Silverman is an advocate of the DREAM act, a law proposed to the U.S. Senate in 2005 that would allow undocumented students brought into the country as children the chance to gain permanent legal status.

However, he emphasizes that this act is no free ride.

These students would be given a six-year temporary residency during which they attend either a four-year or two-year college or serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Along with this, they would be required to complete and uphold other standards outlined in the act, including keeping a clean criminal record and performing up to 900 community service hours.

After the students completed their education or time in the armed forces, they would be given probationary permanent residency for six years and start down a path toward citizenship.

"It has had a lot of bipartisan support, including, at the time, by Sen. [John] McCain," Silverman says. "People may blame Cesar's parents, but how can they blame him? These kids didn't choose to be here."

Although the bill is stagnant at the moment and McCain is no longer a supporter, Silverman says there should be a better idea of its potential success in November when the country elects a new president.

"I want the DREAM act to be passed because I want these bright immigrant students to help pay my Social Security," he says.

To U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the plan of action is obvious.

"Basically, these young people are de facto Americans," Lofgren says. "They were raised and brought up in this country."

She says that the argument that these individuals shouldn't be rewarded with legal status for breaking the law is illogical.

"Amnesty presumes that you've committed some fault," she says, which doesn't work if the children are being brought here along with the family.

The arguments, Lofgren says boil down to one thing: "racism in America — and as a country, we're better than this."

Read the rest of the article here.

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