Group rallies to help immigrant students

Emily Kaiser

According to the National Immigration Law Center, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States each year.

Because they lack documentation, the students are unable to receive in-state tuition or financial aid.

Legislators will reintroduce the bipartisan Dream Act to the state Legislature this session, which would allow 5,000 illegal immigrants a year who graduate from Minnesota high schools to attend college for the cost of in-state tuition.

University students and faculty members met Wednesday to gain support for the bill at the college and high school level.

Nine states have similar laws in place and 18 other states are considering similar legislation, said Martha Ockenfels-Martinez, global and Chicano studies senior and program assistant for the Freedom Network.

The bill passed the house and senate last session, but was not signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

University students were not very involved in the movement last year, but Freedom Network is trying to change that, she said.

One of the group’s main goals is to have University students educate high school students about the importance of the bill, Ockenfels-Martinez said.

The University students would teach high school students during a six-week session and plan lobbying at the state capitol.

“Education is a right,” Ockenfels-Martinez said. “Everyone needs an education and deserves it.”

The bill will primarily affect Chicano and Latino immigrants, Ockenfels-Martinez said, because they are the largest immigrant population in the United States, but are not represented in higher education because of the current laws.

Spanish teaching specialist Maria Louisa Eiffler attended the meeting and said the issue is “extremely important” to her.

Eiffler, a Mexican immigrant, said she believes education is a right all children deserve.

She said she plans to help educate high school students and inform other people who would be interested in the topic.

Kinesiology sophomore Jessica Veit, who also attended the meeting, said she has worked on a similar act since 2003 in her home state, Missouri.

Veit said her best friend is an undocumented student from Costa Rica and is dealing with tuition issues firsthand.

Mechanical engineering senior Chris Bassett said the bill will benefit more people than immigrant students because once students graduate, they will contribute to the state by holding a better job and generating increased income.

“It affects every one of us, whether we know it or not,” he said.

Ockenfels-Martinez said one of the most important aspects of the bill is not punishing students for their parent’s decision to bring them to the United States.

“Students should be rewarded for their accomplishments, not punished,” she said.