Undocumented youth and activists are propeling a Pennsylvania DREAM Act.
When the federal DREAM Act failed in the Senate in late 2010, a number of states took to state legislation to offer assistance to undocumented immigrant youth attending college. In June, Pennsylvania followed in their footsteps.
Introduced by State Rep. Tony Payton (D-Philadelphia), the Pennsylvania Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, if passed.
To qualify, the undocumented citizens would have to have attended three years of school in Pennsylvania and must have graduated from a high school in the state. Students’ parents must have also filed Pennsylvania income taxes for at least three years while the children were in school, and must continue to pay income taxes while the student is enrolled in higher education.
Temple for a DREAM President Caroline Ezzo hopes to assist in the bill’s passage.
Ezzo is trying to raise awareness about the act by gaining more members for her student organization.
The junior political science and economics major said she plans to hold a mock graduation for undocumented students at the Bell Tower, and wants to hold sit-ins at Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.
“Having an educated youth should be every state’s and country and community’s priority,” Ezzo said. “Not only economically does it help the state competitively by having an educated youth, but it makes for a safer, better off community and state.”
Aside from the Main Campus organization, undocumented youth and activists from across the state are trying to garner support for the bill.
Organizer for DreamActivist Pennsylvania and sophomore business major at the University of Pennsylvania, Tania Chairez is also an undocumented citizen. She joins other activists every Thursday to discuss how to advance rights for others like herself.
At a recent meeting inside a small room at 1216 Arch St., Chairez explained to a group where Hughestown, Pa. is located – a town she said is small, but important.
Chairez had traveled there to persuade State Rep. Mike Carroll (D- Luzerne and Monroe) to co-sponsor the bill the same day it was introduced by Payton.
“He didn’t know what undocumented students do, what [they are],” Chairez said. “He wanted to know about…students without a visa and those who crossed the border illegally.”
Chairez said Carroll was impressed that she traveled nearly 100 miles to meet, but would not co-sponsor the bill. Instead he told her he would vote for it.
The response didn’t impress Dave Bennion, a staff attorney for the Nationalities Service Center and member of DreamActivist Pennsylvania.
“The more people see it being co-sponsored, [the more] it will make it more [of an] interest,” Bennion said.
Ezzo said some legislators are afraid of losing more conservative constituents by becoming associated with, “undocumented anybody.”
“But really if you look at the people working for immigration reform and people working for the DREAM Act [they have] totally different agendas and I think that’s a very important thing for people to see,” Ezzo said, noting that the act is intended to help the youth that are already here.
The Pennsylvania DREAM Act that Payton introduced is a scaled back version of a farther-reaching federal DREAM Act that was passed in the House of Representatives but failed to gain enough votes in the Senate in December 2010. The federal DREAM Act would have allowed undocumented immigrants brought here as children, who met specific criteria, to be put on a path toward citizenship through higher education or military service.
Payton said most student-aged undocumented immigrants know only America as home and want an education but, “They just lack a nine-digit Social Security card.”
Bills similar to the proposed Pennsylvania DREAM Act have passed in 12 states, including Maryland and New York, allowing undocumented immigrants who meet the state’s requirements to pay in-state tuition.
The Illinois DREAM Act, which was signed into law in early August, is the first bill to provide undocumented and documented immigrant students the choice of private college scholarships and state-college saving programs.
But opposition to the DREAM Act remains a force against progressives.
Representatives such as State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) have voiced criticism about the commonwealth’s bill. Last September, Metcalfe proposed a bill to give local law enforcement the authority to apprehend undocumented citizens in the state, for deportation.
Today, Aug. 30, a series of bills proposed by Metcalfe known as “National Security Begins at Home,” will be discussed in Harrisburg. The bills seek to create tougher policies on undocumented citizens.
Victoria Hudgins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.