How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Top five immigration stories of 2010, #2: The Dream Act

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student's bold statement, December 8, 2010

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act wasn't new when 2010 rolled around. The proposed legislation, which would have granted conditional legal status to undocumented young people who attended college or joined the military, had already been knocking around Congress for almost a decade when it was reintroduced last year.

Still, this year has been the Dream Act's biggest by far. After failing as an attachment to a Senate defense bill voted down in September, it was introduced again as a stand-alone bill. In December, it came as close as it ever has to becoming law, clearing the House Dec. 8, but falling five votes short of cloture in the Senate ten days later. The most recent version, tightened and reintroduced in late November, would have allowed young people under 30 to apply for legal status if they met all the requirements, including having arrived before age 16.

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Audio from today's Patt Morrison show: The DREAM Act and student activism

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A sign outside a DREAM Act rally in Los Angeles last summer.

In recent weeks I've posted several stories and updates related to the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow a path to legal status for undocumented young people who attend college or enlist in the military. A House vote is expected soon, possibly later this week.

Part of the reason that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which has been introduced and failed several times over the course of nearly a decade, is getting so much attention this time is because of unprecedented activism among the very undocumented students it would benefit.

During previous DREAM Act vote cycles, the bulk of these youths remained in the shadows. But since the bill was introduced again last year, a growing number of students who have been here illegally since they were children have been coming out publicly about their immigration status to make a statement in support of the bill, attaching their names and faces to it, and generating publicity. Some have risked arrest and deportation by participating in rallies and sit-ins; others have stuck their necks out as well-known student leaders.

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Illegal, undocumented, unauthorized? More debate over immigrants and AP style

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Graffiti in Munich, Germany, Feb. 2008

Last month I wrote about the discussion provoked by a campaign organized by ColorLines, an online magazine covering issues related to racial justice, to discourage media use of "illegals" in reference to immigrants who arrived in this country illegally or overstayed visas.

Most mainstream media outlets follow Associated Press style, I pointed out then. And while "illegals" isn't deemed appropriate in the AP Stylebook, "illegal immigrant" is.

Last week, Marisa Treviño of Latina Lista took the next step: questioning the AP's judgment on its style, and that of outlets that go along with it. After being offended by the use of "illegal immigrant" used to describe CSU Fresno's accomplished student body president in a headline when his status was disclosed recently, she posted last Thursday:

...the AP, always looked upon as the guardian and ultimate authority on newspaper writing style, refuses to acknowledge that maybe a group other than itself can deem a particular term inappropriate for news usage -- especially a group that is offended by that term.

It wouldn't be so bad if only the AP used the term but because many in the industry follow its lead like sheep in a pack, they also use the term when referring to undocumented immigrants. In speaking with a few editors at different newspapers about their usage of the term, they have replied that they use it because it is "sanctioned" by the AP.

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Not one, but two, undocumented student leaders have come out this week: So what, or now what?

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From a graduation ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 2010

In the past two days, two prominent student leaders - one in Fresno, one in Miami - have revealed that they are undocumented. Earlier this week, CSU Fresno's student body president Pedro Ramirez, 22, confirmed his status to reporters. On Wednesday, 19-year-old José Salcedo revealed during a keynote speech at a student rally held at Miami Dade College's InterAmerican campus in Little Havana that he, too, is undocumented.

Ramirez, born in Mexico and here since he was three, is an academic star who was valedictorian of his graduating senior class in high school. Salcedo, born in Colombia and also here since childhood, is a student representative on the trustees board for Miami Dade College and a member of the school's Honors College, a distinction awarded only to 550 elite students on campus, according to the Miami Herald.

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Über-achiever student? Check. Undocumented? Check.

Photo by Josh Self/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Graduation cap and accoutrements, October 2010

A university student body president and former high school valedictorian, undocumented? Yes, and it shouldn't surprise anyone.

CSU Fresno's campus daily, The Collegian, revealed the immigration status of student body president Pedro Ramirez yesterday after contacting him regarding an anonymous tip, an e-mail sent to the daily alleging that Ramirez was serving as president without pay because he was undocumented. While he had not been out in the open about his status, save for with school administrators, Ramirez confirmed it.

From the story:

Ramirez said that ASI administrators were aware that he would not be paid for the ASI position, but he willfully accepted it as a volunteer position.

“For me, it’s an emotional issue,” Ramirez said. “Not a lot of people know that I am undocumented. A lot of people I got to class with…students, faculty, staff and staff administrators think I’m a normal student.”

Ramirez, an AB 540 student, didn’t know of his legal status until his senior year of high school before his graduation.

AB 540 is a California state law that allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees instead of the more costly out-of state fees.

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