Measure aims at helping immigrants seeking college educations

Bill would make DE 12th state to pass "DREAM Act"

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Wilmington – Children of undocumented aliens would be able to receive in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities and also could take part in the seed and inspire scholarship programs under legislation introduced today.

During a press conference at the Latin American Community Center to announce the legislation. Sen. Robert I. Marshall, D-Wilmington West, said the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act is needed to help keep students motivated and to give them a chance at achieving their life ambitions.

“These are kids who were brought here by parents that were hoping to make a better life for their families, ” Marshall said. “Education is a big key to succeeding in this country and we shouldn’t deny young people who want to succeed here because their parents decided to come to this country illegally to give them a chance at a better life.”

If the bill is approved in its current form, a young person would have to:

. Have attended a Delaware public or private high school for at least three years
. Not be convicted of a felony
. Meet academic requirements for admission at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University or Delaware Technical and Community College. Students who also meet financial eligibility guidelines would be able to take advantage of the SEED and Inspire scholarships.

Students using SEED can attend DelTech tuition free for a technical degree or to take part in its Parallel Program for an associate’s degree from UD. The Inspire Program covers the first two years of tuition at DSU.

Yessenia Tolentino, a UD Junior, was a member of the “DREAM Team,” which has pushed for the bill here and has been involved in lobbying for a national version of the law. Tolentino, whose parents legally emigrated here from Mexico, said she thinks the law is important because it will give the children of immigrants a reason to keep hitting books.

“A lot of students lose hope and drop out, and those who do keep studying and want to attend college find they can’t because of their status,” she said. “I am fortunate because my parents came here legally, but I have a lot of friends whose parents are undocumented immigrants and I have seen the kinds of hurdles and discrimination they face. This law would help thousands of people get and education and improve their lives.”

Mara Matos, the center’s executive director, said Latino children make up about 13 percent of Delaware’s children and called on lawmakers to pass the bill.

“Many of these youth are graduating at the top of their class. Their first language is English and they are as American as you and me,” Matos said. “Today’s Latino youth will be critical to our state and nation’s economic future. Delaware cannot afford to lose this pool of talent.”

Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, said he thinks the bill provides not only a gateway to a more affordable education, but a gateway to the middle class for young people who take advantage of the bill.

“Fostering well-educated citizens is the best thing we can do to produce an upwardly mobile society,” said Miro. “All these students and parents want is an equal playing field so they can achieve a better standard of living in the future.”

Currently 11 states, including California, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin have a DREAM Act with tuition language similar to the one under consideration here, according to information from the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states, including Oklahoma which repealed its DREAM Act, have bars to undocumented students attending state colleges at in-state tuition rates.

A challenge to California’s Dream Act reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case letting stand a lower court ruling that such laws are Constitutional. That Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry said should help the bill here.

“This represents fundamental fairness to young people, who had no choice in whether they would come to this country, who have become a part of our American fabric and who want nothing more than a chance to gain an education and contribute to their adopted country,” Henry said. “This is a law that been challenged in other states and upheld as being Constitutional, so there’s no compelling reason to prevent us acting to pass it as quickly as possible.”

Rep. Helene Keeley, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, said children who are brought to this country illegally should not suffer the consequences of their parents’ actions. She noted that there has been support for this type of initiative on the national stage on both sides of the aisle.

“Regardless of your feelings on immigration, I think everyone can agree that it is unfair to punish children who are brought to this country illegally by preventing them from receiving an education,” said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “Children who have grown up in Delaware, attended Delaware schools and want to go to college in Delaware so they can compete for quality jobs should have the same opportunity that other Delaware students have. By allowing them to attend Delaware colleges and pay in-state tuition, we are giving them that opportunity.”

While action on the national version of the law and other similar bills around the country has bogged down in broader questions of immigration policy, Miguel Tapia, another member of the local Dream Team, says he hopes passage of the law here will help push the issue ahead.

“I think it’s great that Delaware is trying to pass a DREAM Act, and I think passing it here will encourage efforts in other states and add momentum to passing a national law,” said Tapia a freshman at Salesianum School. “Hispanics are a fast-growing part of the population. That includes illegal immigrants and I don’t think we should deny their children a chance to succeed.”

To make sure students get that chance, Marshall called on the bill’s backers to keep pushing for the measure.

“Make no mistake, this won’t be easy,” Marshall said. “But I am confident that with the help of my colleagues here, from both sides of the aisle, with the inspiring help of members of the Delaware Dream team and with the support of our fellow citizens, who still believe in the magic that is the American Dream, we will overcome the forces who would try to deny us and make this dream a reality.”