Students march for immigrant rights

Protestors aimed to bring awareness to the Minnesota DREAM Act.

by Rebecca Bentz

Beating drums, shouting and sporadic singing echoed through the streets of the Summit Hill neighborhood in St. Paul on Sunday afternoon as immigrant rights marchers made their way from the Governor’s mansion on Summit Avenue to Republican senior Sen. Norm Coleman’s home.

“No to deportation; yes to legalization,” demonstrators shouted as they trudged through slush-filled streets, waving banners and the American flag.

The march of about 150 people was part of a series of events to raise awareness for immigrant rights and the Minnesota DREAM Act. The Act failed to pass last year.

“They’re here, they’re loving people,” marcher and Inver Grove Heights resident Gina Detliler said as a tear ran down her cheek. “I can’t believe we’re doing things like this to them; it’s almost embarrassing.”

The state DREAM Act is a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates and receive financial aid and merit-based scholarships if they meet certain requirements.

To be eligible, a student must attend a Minnesota high school for at least three years, be accepted to a public college or university, graduate from a state high school or receive an equivalent certificate and, if required, sign an affidavit stating they are attempting to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Currently, undocumented students must pay international student tuition and are ineligible for financial aid. International students at the University pay about $14,000 more per year for tuition and educational fees than students with Minnesota residency.

Augsburg College student Alisa Hoven said undocumented immigrants have as much of a right to education as U.S. citizens.

“Rights are not dependant on a piece of paper,” she said.

The Act is aimed at students who didn’t decide to immigrate to the United States, but came as young children with their parents, University professor and Chicano Studies Chairman Louis Mendoza said.

The legislation would not only aid undocumented students pursuing higher education, but also the state, according the bill’s chief author in the senate, Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.

“Minnesota needs a more educated workforce,” Pappas said. “We have a lot more immigrants and students of color who aren’t graduating at the same rate as their Caucasian counterparts.”

But the Act received criticism from Gov. Pawlenty and other members of the community. University alumnus Ray Roybal said the act is unfair because it has only been discussed in terms of the Latino community.

Sunday’s march and rally were not the only events raising awareness about immigration issues and the Act.

On Feb. 27, students and immigrant rights groups marched to the Capitol for the third annual Immigrant Student Day. Volunteers from the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network taught students about the Minnesota DREAM Act and trained them to lobby legislators. On Saturday, Act supporters gathered for a letter-writing and phone-banking campaign.

“It’s very inspiring to see these young students not only participating in democracy, but also their passion for higher education opportunities,” Mendoza said.

The state Legislature should pass the bill so Minnesota can lead the nation in immigration law reforms, he said.

Acts similar to Minnesota’s have passed in 11 states; 18 others are also currently considering the legislation, according to the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network’s Web site.