Published Online: September 17, 2003
Published in Print: September 17, 2003, as Federal File

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They Have a Dream

Some have few job prospects; others have little money. Many of them come from poverty, and live in fear of deportation. And while thousands graduate from high school each year, their passage to college is often blocked.

But during the 108th Congress, the nation's undocumented immigrants are hoping they have influence where it counts: inside the Beltway.

A diverse collection of congressional lawmakers is backing a bill that would change federal law to make it easier for states to give students who are undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges.

A second piece of that legislation, known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, would allow foreign-born students who immigrated to the United States before turning 16 and have been in this country at least five years to earn legal residency upon high school graduation or admission to college. Supporters say many of those students may have high academic goals, yet as the children of parents who moved to this country, they cannot gain access to college because of their immigration status.

The legislation, introduced Sept. 4, is sponsored by Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and has picked up support from lawmakers in both parties.

"Immigration is one of those few issues where you have a mix of interesting allies," said Sang Han, the assistant director of federal relations for the National Association of State Colleges and Universities. "You don't really follow partisan lines."

Current federal law has been interpreted in some cases as requiring states that charge in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants to also offer that benefit to U.S. residents from other states. Some states, regardless, have passed laws allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state charges, but others have been reluctant to take on the issue, supporters of Sen. Hatch's legislation say.

Josh Bernstein, the senior policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center's Washington office, says his organization estimates that between 50,000 and 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in the United States each year.

"These are young people in every district, in every state," Mr. Bernstein said. "As these kids come to the attention of members of Congress, [lawmakers] want to help."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 3, Page 24

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