Club Latino event promotes DREAM Act

Eric Nickeson-Mendheim

This year, Club Latino will increase its political activism by supporting the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and the nearly 65,000 students who would benefit from it, club co-president and sophomore Hiram Moran said.

“We took this as an opportunity because it’s a way to involve ourselves in the community,” said sophomore Co-President of Club Latino Hiram Moran. “It’s something that involves ourselves in the Latino students as well as other Whitman students. It really bridges the Whitman community with the outside.”

The DREAM Act is meant to allow children of illegal immigrants born outside the United States a chance to pursue a degree in higher education. According to Washington state law, all children are allowed to attend school from kindergarten to twelfth  grade. With the DREAM Act, undocumented students would also be allowed to attend college and receive financial aid, enter into the military and use their college degree to find a job.

“[With the DREAM Act,] once you get a degree, you can actually work,” said junior Ariel Ruiz, Club Latino’s historian. ” I know some people who graduated from college but had to go back to Mexico. My friend graduated from Washington University with a degree in law but wasn’t able to use that. He wasn’t able to give back to the community.”

A version of the DREAM Act was first drafted in 2001 and reintroduced in March.   But supporters have recently found themselves overshadowed by the health care debate, despite support from Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (D-WA).

“I think there’s a consensus that it’s a humanitarian issue,” said Moran. “There’s a lot of focus on the student and how he or she can become productive to society.”

Club Latino sponsored a public forum about the act on Sunday, Oct. 4. They hoped the forum would garnish support for the act and raise awareness.

“I think one of the greatest strengths we have is our people,” said State Representative Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla), who spoke at the forum. “It’s always a wonderful thing for kids to be able to have it better than their parents. I think that’s what the DREAM Act is about: recognizing the students out there who have worked hard and want to achieve.”

Assistant Professor of Sociology Gilbert Mireles also spoke at the forum. He described the schematics of the bill and how he viewed it as a way to address a flaw in the current education system.

“It would provide 360,000 Americans with the opportunity to work, attend college and strengthen our community,” said Mireles. “Through no fault of their own these students lack the legal status to be part of the community. This dream has been deferred long enough for these young Americans.”

Club Latino also hopes to raise awareness not just about the act itself, but also about undocumented students that live on the Whitman campus and other college campuses.

“You’d be surprised how many undocumented students go here,” said Ruiz. “It’s a fact; undocumented students exist here. That’s the main goal, to make people realize undocumented students exist.”

Club Latino and the forum’s guest speakers described the DREAM Act as a bipartisan issue.

“I think sometimes our political process becomes skewed with partisan process,” said Walsh. “Until we allow our students to be educated to the full extent they want to, we damage them.”

Club Latino members hope to show the community that the DREAM Act affects everyone, not just undocumented students.

“I grew up in the Walla Walla educational system and have been following this bill since it started in 2001,” said Ruiz. “There are children of farmers who go to school with us all around. The only difference they have is a nine digit number.”