After a false dawn, anxiety for illegal immigrant students

It was exhilarating for Maricela Aguilar to stand on the steps of the federal courthouse one day last summer and reveal for the first time in public that she is an illegal immigrant.

 “It’s all about losing that shame of who you are,” Ms. Aguilar, a college student who was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States without legal documents since she was 3 years old, said of her “coming out” at a rally in June.

Those were heady times for thousands of immigrant students who declared their illegal status during a nationwide campaign for a bill in Congress that would have put them on a path to legal residence. In December that bill, known as the Dream Act, passed the House, then failed in the Senate, reports the New York Times. President Obama insisted in his State of the Union address and in interviews that he wanted to try again on the bill this year. But with Republicans who vehemently oppose the legislation holding crucial committee positions in the new House, even optimists like Ms. Aguilar believe its chances are poor to none in the next two years. That leaves students like her who might have benefited from the bill–an estimated 1.2 million nationwide–in a legal twilight……Read More

Immigration vote leaves Obama’s policy in disarray

The vote by the Senate on Saturday to block a bill to grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant students was a painful setback to an emerging movement of immigrants and also appeared to leave the immigration policy of the Obama administration, which has supported the bill and the movement, in disarray, reports the New York Times. The bill, known as the Dream Act, gained 55 votes in favor with 41 against, a tally short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for debate. Five Democrats broke ranks to vote against the bill, while only three Republicans voted for it. The defeat in the Senate came after the House of Representatives passed the bill last week. The result, although not unexpected, was still a rebuff to President Obama by newly empowered Republicans in Congress on an issue he has called one of his priorities. Supporters believed that the bill–tailored to benefit only immigrants who were brought here illegally when they were children and hoped to attend college or enlist in the military–was the easiest piece to pass out of a larger overhaul of immigration laws that Mr. Obama supports. His administration has pursued a two-sided policy, coupling tough enforcement–producing a record number of about 390,000 deportations this year–with an effort to pass the overhaul, which would open a path to legal status for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Now, with less hope for any legalization measures once Republicans take over the House in January, the administration is left with just the stick. Part of the administration’s strategy has been to ramp up border and workplace enforcement to attract Republican votes for the overhaul. The vote on Saturday made it clear that strategy has not succeeded so far…

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College-educated and illegal: Immigrants pin job hopes on DREAM Act

The DREAM Act would offer legal status and a path to citizenship to children and young adults who were brought to the US illegally and who attend college or serve in the military, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The House passed its version of the DREAM Act Dec. 8, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid says he’s determined to bring it to a vote in the Senate before the holiday recess. According to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, the bill would cover as many as 2 million children and young adults who are in school or have graduated. MPI estimates that 114,000 of these have already completed at least two years of college, while 66,000 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Ron Arteno (c.) of the Fresno (Calif.) Tea Party Movement held a sign Nov. 19 in front of students supporting Pedro Ramirez, student body president at California State University, Fresno, and an undocumented immigrant, before he spoke in support of getting the DREAM Act passed by Congress. The bill would benefit students and graduates who have been in the country from a young age and have integrated considerably into American society, says Jeanne Batalova, a policy analyst at MPI. It would also offer an incentive to those still in elementary and high school to continue their education or join the military. At the same time, Ms. Batalova says, the bill imposes tough conditions. She estimates that fewer than half of those eligible would likely be able to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Going to college might be difficult from a financial point of view,” she says. “And for many, the military route might not be an option.”

The DREAM Act also has attracted powerful opposition. Although immigration reform enjoys support in the US – a Pew Hispanic Center survey last year found that 63 percent of Americans favored offering illegal residents a path to citizenship – many conservatives object to the DREAM Act as a step down a slippery slope toward amnesty for illegal immigrants. “Amnesty has never been a good way to solve the illegal immigration problem,” says Jena McNeill of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Justin Pulliam, president of the Texas Aggie Conservatives, a student group at Texas A&M University, goes to school in the state with the second-highest number of illegal immigrants and some of the most liberal education policies. It allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state schools. Last month Mr. Pulliam persuaded a majority of his school’s student Senate to vote against the policy, which is also part of the DREAM Act. He’s sympathetic to the predicament of undocumented students, but he worries that the bill would only encourage people to break the law……Read More