Alex Wong/Getty Images
File photo: Students throw their caps during a mock graduation ceremony at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 20, 2004 in Washington, D.C.. Several hundred students and advocates took part in the ceremony and urged Congress and the Bush administration to pass the Dream Act, which would put U.S.-raised immigrant students on the path to college and U.S. citizenship.
Thousands of foreign-born college students and military personnel in the Southland are keeping a close eye on the U.S. Senate. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill known as the DREAM Act. It would create a conditional path to U.S. citizenship and job security for people who illegally entered the country when they were very young.
At their weekly meeting, DREAM Act students at Mission College in Sylmar say it’s a crapshoot to land good jobs after graduation. Without legal residency, their advanced degrees in structural engineering, bio-genetics and social services become less about entering a profession and more about academic excellence for its own sake.
“It’s very competitive," says Sonia Pina. Pina is the soft-spoken president of Mission College’s DREAM Act club. The 19-year-old second-year student says she’s interested in mathematics; she hopes to design or build spacecraft. When she discusses that dream with campus counselors, she says they don’t mince words about her job prospects.
“Yeah, they tell me straight up that even though I get my degrees, it’ll still be really hard for me to get a job," says Pina. When asked why she still wants to go through with her education, Piana says, "Not only would I only try and be, like, a higher person here, I’d like to help out my community and be a role model to my brother and sister.” Pina says both of them were born in L.A. and are American citizens.
The DREAM Act has some bipartisan support in Washington. Supporters say about 65,000 people across the country share Pina’s situation.
Opponents say the bill belongs in a broader immigration reform effort – not in a defense spending bill. One reason it’s there is that the DREAM Act, if passed, would offer U.S. citizenship to students who graduate from college and to those who serve in the American armed forces.
Dozens of DREAM Act students and their supporters have spent the last few days calling state representatives in Washington and pressuring them to vote yes on the DREAM Act. Supporters say it could benefit as many as 40,000 young undocumented immigrants in L.A.