Voters Approve Maryland Dream Act

Undocumented immigrant students celebrated a big victory on Tuesday night, as voters approved the Maryland Dream Act.

The law will allow some students brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was celebrating along with students at a watch party at Arcos Mexican Restaurant in Fells Point.

“This is going to be a tremendous affirmation of the goodness of the people of the state,” the governor told the crowd.

Known as “Question 4,” the act was approved by a comfortable margin.

However, it differs from other states in that students must first attend community college at the in-state rate and then transfer to universities to receive the in-state benefit there. Other states with similar legislation don’t require students to attend community colleges to receive the benefit. The law  should not be confused with the proposed federal Dream Act, which would provide a path to legal status and citizenship to undocumented college students.

While there are other states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, Maryland is the first state where voters –rather than just legislators–approved  such an initiative. The Maryland General Assembly approved the act last year, but it went to a vote because Republicans successfully petitioned to put the law on hold and place it on the ballot.

Both immigration and education were top issues for Latino voters heading into the election. Javier Mercado, 42, told The Washington Post that he supported the Dream Act legislation.

“It is another opportunity for the students that want to better themselves,” he said. “We can’t deny them an education.”

The Post noted that in-state tuition is $7,175 a year at the University of Maryland in College Park and out-of-state tuition is $25,554. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh supported passage of the law.

Students were also paying careful attention to the ballot initative, as the outcome could have a significant impact on their college aspirations and goals.

“This means so much to me, my parents and my family–who are the other dreamers,” high school senior Nathaly Uribe, who moved to the United States from Chile when she was just two years old, told The Baltimore Sun as she watched the election coverage. “This will give all of us a chance.”

Related Links:

– “Md. voters approve ‘Dream Act’ law.” The Washington Post.

– “Students celebrate approval of Maryland Dream Act.” The Baltimore Sun. 

– “Maryland Voters Approve In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students.” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week. 

– “Maryland Dream Act will benefit state, study says.” Maryland Politics – The Washington Post.

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Undocumented Immigrant Students May Begin Applying for “Deferred Action” Today

Young undocumented immigrants today may begin applying for “deferred action” status that would protect them from deportation for two years and allow them to work. The new protected status is the result of a policy change announced by President Obama in June.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, up to 1.7 million undocumented young people ages 30 and younger–about 85 percent of whom are Latino–could stand to benefit.

To qualify, undocumented immigrants must have lived in the United States continuously since June 15,2007; must have moved to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday; be enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military when they apply; and cannot have committed a felony or significant misdemeanor.

In addition, young people can prove their identity with passports or birth certificates, any photo ID, school transcripts, medical and financial records, sworn affidavits and other evidence.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has posted instructions on how to apply online, in addition to lists of other documents young people can provide.  They must pay a $465 application fee, but young people with high financial need may apply for an exemption.

The change stops short of the Dream Act, which has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress and would have provided path to citizenship for undocumented youth.

Still, the changes are making many young people more optimistic about their futures.

Ariel Ruiz, 23, immigrated illegally to the U.S. from Mexico at age 10 and is a graduate of Whitman College with a degree in sociology. Because he was undocumented, after he graduated he worked one summer harvesting garlic.

“I’m finally able to see a pathway to doing what I studied to do,” he told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “It will be a great source of motivation for students who gave up on education, thinking they would end up picking apples or onions.”

The Chronicle story pointed out that many colleges have not been actively informing students about the policy, even though many of their students are eligible. However, number of groups across the country are offering young people assistance in applying and determining their eligibility. In my region, Catholic Charities of Dallas is offering appointments. The group United We Dream is providing information online.

Related Links:

– “Up to 1.7 million unauthorized immigrant youth may benefit from new deportation rules.” Pew Hispanic Center.

– “Instruction for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

– “U.S. opens a door to a dream.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.

– United We Dream.

– “Relief for young undocumented immigrants starts today.” Learning the Language. Education Week.

Last-Minute Reprieve Saves Virginia High School Graduate from Deportation

Heydi Mejia, 18, is a good student who also happens to be an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She graduated from Meadowbrook High School in Virginia on Friday, just days before she was scheduled for deportation.

Similar stories have made headlines recently, and public outpourings of support led to some of those students being able to stay in the United States. But was Mejia’s story “good enough” in the eyes of politicians  and the public to earn a reprieve?

“What happens when you’re ranked No. 22 at a suburban high school outside Richmond, where politicians haven’t responded to your calls and school officials aren’t sure whether to spell your name Heydi or Heidi?” The Washington Post asked in a story on Monday.

Mejia was a member of the National Honor Society, and her teachers and principals wrote letters of support for her to submit to immigration officials. She also submitted SAT scores and school transcripts. But she was still rejected by the Department of Homeland Security before she graduated and ordered deported. “For me, this week feels more like a dead end,” Mejia said about commencement activities.

But once the story was published on the front page of the Post on Monday, she got the answer she wanted from immigration officials that same day. The Department of Homeland Security granted her a one-year reprieve. She  now plans to enroll in college.

“It has been an overwhelming week, for sure,” she told the Post. “I’ve had every emotion, and now I just feel so relieved and so lucky.”

Undocumented immigrant students graduating near or at the top of their high school classes make for the most dramatic stories, and seem to have the best chance of winning public support. Media coverage also seems to play a major role, as evidenced by the decision about Heydi coming the same day that the story was published by one of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Another example is Daniela Pelaez, who just graduated as valedictorian of North Miami Senior High School and is headed to Dartmouth College. Public and political support, coupled with media coverage, earned her a reprieve. But what about all those students who are not lucky enough to be featured in major media coverage? Or those who may just be “B” or “C” students who still plan on going to college, albeit community college, the higher education pathway that most young Latinos choose?

It’s important to reflect on the fact that there are many kids facing this situation across the country, and the impact of media makes a difference for just a few. That’s despite the fact that President Obama told officials last year to be more lenient on such students and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.

Education Week recently reported that the Latino high school graduation rate stood at just 63 percent in 2009. Schools are battling to create success stories for Hispanic students, only to watch some of them shipped away.

Passage of the Dream Act–which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant students who pursue a college degree–could lead to more students graduating high school with stories like Heidi’s. How many of their stories go untold? See if you can find one in the school district you cover, and especially consider writing about that student who may not be valedictorian on salutatorian, but is still a good kid.

Related Links:

– “Virginia teen Heydi Mejia is granted reprieve from deportation.” The Washington Post.

– “Virginia student graduates from high school, braces for deportation.” The Washington Post.

– “Valedictorian with immigration woes wins cheers with her diploma.” CBS Miami. 

– “Elizabeth Olivas returns to Indiana for graduation after weeks stuck in Mexico.” Indianapolis Star.

High School Valedictorian Fights Deportation

A Miami high school valedictorian ordered deported to her native Colombia is inspiring a groundswell of community support, protests and media coverage.

Daniela Pelaez, 18, who is enrolled in the international baccalaureate program at North Miami High School, dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. But that dream is now threatened: A judge recently ordered that she and her sister to be deported on March 28. Daniela was brought to the United States when she was four years old and overstayed a tourist visa.

The case once again puts the spotlight on the DREAM Act, and the many undocumented immigrant students who would benefit from a path to legal status if they pursue a postsecondary degree.

NBC Miami reported that last Friday, several thousand people–including students and teachers–joined a walkout protest at North Miami High School. Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho left the school holding Daniela’s hand. “Over my dead body will this child be deported,” he told the crowd, the station reported.

Daniela also has spoken out regarding her case, saying she doesn’t remember Colombia. “I’ve been asked the question before: ‘Do I feel American?’ or ‘Do I believe I am?'” Pelaez told NBC. “And I don’t think it’s a question. I’m American. I know the national anthem. I know the laws. I know what it is to be an American.”

Tampa Bay Online reports that local politicians have spoken out in support of her case. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, wants Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to reverse the decision. Even Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who has spoken out against the DREAM Act, supports Daniela’s cause

President Obama has repeatedly spoken in support of the DREAM Act and last summer announced a policy intended to lessen deportations of undocumented immigrants who are not criminals. The policy was intended to help minors brought to the U.S. as children. But The New York Times has reported that the policy has been applied unevenly, with some deportations halted and others proceeding forward. It’s unclear whether federal officials will reverse the decision in Daniela’s case.

Republican Promotes ‘DREAM Act’ Bill Benefiting Soldiers, Not Students

First came the DREAM Act; now we’re at ARMS.

The Miami Herald reports that Florida Congressman David Rivera, R-Miami, has filed a bill proposing that undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and serve in the military be provided a path to U.S. citizenship. He calls it ARMS, or Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act.

Unlike the DREAM act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) legislation, ARMS would not help college students.

The future of undocumented young people is shaping up to be a contentious issue in the coming presidential election. Rivera says that he developed the proposal after Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney expressed support for giving undocumented immigrants who serve in the military the opportunity to earn legal status  at Monday’s Florida GOP debate . “If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America,” Rivera told the Herald.

Romney previously declared that  he would veto the DREAM act. The act has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress since 2001.

So, are legislators in your state floating similar ideas? It’s worth checking on.

Meanwhile, this week President Obama renewed his support for a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrant college students and armed services members in his State of the Union speech. He included it in a section calling for immigration reform. The president has been under increasing heat from Latino leaders upset by the rising number of deportations.

I found it interesting that he did not refer to the DREAM Act by name in his speech. Here’s that part of his speech from Tuesday:

“Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation…”

He went on to add:

“We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now. But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”

Defending undocumented immigrant college students is a risky stance to take in today’s political environment. When Texas governor Rick Perry defended his state’s policy on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students while running for the Republican nomination, he came under heavy fire. It proved deadly to his viability as a presidential candidate.

What the DREAM Act Means for K-12 Students

As an immigrant who was born in Ecuador and educated in the United States, I’ve lived the experience of being a Latino student in this country. As a reporter who covered Latino communities and education issues for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Associated Press and other publications, I’ve viewed that same experience through the prism of journalism.

And as a high school teacher whose classes were about 30 to 60 percent Latino, I’ve had an up-close glimpse at the problems Latino students face and the potential they can fulfill.

Now, as a contributor to Latino Ed Beat, I’ll be examining reports, research, policies and coverage of issues relating to Latinos and education and offering guidance for education reporters tackling those topics. I’ll suggest angles and approaches; pose questions and queries; and, I hope, spark story ideas and spur conversation for all who cover the beat.

I’ll also be welcoming ideas and feedback. So, if there’s a report you’d like to discuss, or a story worth highlighting, please let me know.

One of the topics I’ve been thinking about a lot lately has been the DREAM Act and the movement among young, undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and enter political activism. Continue reading