University Ministry held two events last week to spread awareness of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that if passed would grant thousands of undocumented immigrant students the opportunity to receive permanent residency in the country.
Last December the DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives but was short five votes in the Senate.
The California DREAM Act benefits undocumented students under AB 540, a California law that allows high school graduates enrolled in a state-owned college, university or community college the opportunity to pay in-state tuition.
With the lack of success on the national level, states are now taking measures into their own hands. California has become the leader in the issue with the passage of AB 130, allowing students to receive private scholarships in the state. AB 131 is pending approval from Governor Brown. If passed, the measure would give students access to in-state public funding.
The DREAM Sabbath, proposed by Senator Dick Durban of Illinois, is a national campaign to be held from September 16 through October 9. Its goal is to raise awareness and support for the DREAM Act throughout universities, schools and organizations.
USF Resident Minister Ryan Murphy first proposed the DREAM Sabbath at a press conference in Washington DC. He worked in the capital last year as a lobbyist for the Columbian Center for Advocacy and Outreach.
“For University Ministry, social justice is a very important part of Ignatian spirituality, which is the spiritual foundation of the Jesuit priest society,” Murphy said. He added, “One of the ministries is helping migrants.”
Through events featuring guest speakers and an interfaith vigil, University Ministry’s goal was to create awareness and reflection on this nationwide issue.
Last Tuesday, Irvis 5th year student at UC Davis, shared his experience as an undocumented immigrant. Irvis said he finances part of his college education picking crops in fields. Despite his efforts to pay his college tuition, he said the obstacles become even greater with California’s rising tuition rates. Junior Sarah Bertero said she has friends who would benefit from the DREAM Act. She said, “[The act] is not offering special treatment, it’s just equaling out the playing field.”
At last Wednesday’s candle lit interfaith vigil, attendees heard faith perspectives, slam poetry, and guest speakers in support of the DREAM Act.
Noemi Degante, 28, spoke at the vigil expressing the hope she gained through the act. Even though publicly sharing her story of being an undocumented immigrant is a risk she said, “I’ve been afraid for so long that I’m tired of hiding myself.”
USF Psychology Major Sindy Vela also shared her testimony as an undocumented student at the vigil. She came to California at the age of nine. Her Jesuit education is funded through a university scholarship. During her speech, she said she was almost deported to Guatemala during her sophomore year of high school. However, during her court hearing the judge repealed her deportation order. Vela said the judge was feeling sick and decided Vela couldn’t be deported. However, she didn’t want to grant her legal documentation for permanent residency. Until a law is passed, Vela’s case remains closed.
“[The judge] literally left me in the middle. I can graduate from USF but I can’t work,” Vela said.
University Ministry plans to create a coalition of students to continue raising awareness about the DREAM Act. Murphy said the group will reach out to the USF community and support San Francisco movements fighting for this issue.
On both nights University Ministry collected signatures for a petition they hand-delivered to Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office on October 5. Those collaborating with University Ministry also held a call-in day to Governor Brown’s office representing USF’s interest in passing the DREAM Act.
“At USF the DREAM Act is still not out to the entire community,” Vela said, “A lot of people might know about it but not fully. They might think that at USF there’s no undocumented students. Our school supports many social causes but I think this one would be a great one to support.”