Students joined politicians and activists for a spirited rally in New Haven City Hall urging the state legislature to give undocumented young people a shot at the American Dream.
They filled City Hall’s first floor Saturday to urge passage of the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would give undocumented youths in Connecticut the opportunity to pay college tuition as if they were legal residents. It enters a decisive stage Wednesday when the state legislature’s Education Committee takes it up. (Click here to read a previous story on the act.)
“We have hopes that this time the bill will not die, considering Governor Dannel Malloy said we’re seeking a way to pass it in the House and in the Senate, and he will sign it immediately,” Tomas Reyes, leader of a statewide Latino political caucus, told the crowd at City Hall Saturday. He noted that some conservative Democrats as well as Republicans have so far not supported the bill.
“For this reason we’re now trying to rouse the community.”
Among the supporters of the act are U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.
“What do we want! DREAM Act. Yes we can!” chanted the crowd at City Hall, who included people who came from as far as Stamford, Danbury, and Hartford.
Of the 18 members of the Education Committee, only ten people have promised their vote of support so far, meaning if someone is absent Wednesday, the bill might not make it out of committee, said Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission of Connecticut. That happened in 2007, although former State Rep. Felip Reinoso managed to get the bill onto the floor of the legislature and approved anyway. (The bill ultimately died thanks to a veto by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.)
According to Oyanadel, an estimated 200 undocumented students finish high school in Connecticut. Half of them could enter college with the help of the DREAM Act.
“Currently college tuition is $7,000 per semester and an undocumented student is supposed to pay three times that amount, that is to say, $21,000,” he said. Most students can’t afford that $21,000, he said.
Sisters María and Lorella Praeli, undocumented immigrants born in Peru, attended Saturday’s rally.
“It has been a struggle with my conscience since I was in my last year of high school. And to come out of the shadows has completely liberated me,” said Lorella. Thanks to a scholarship, she is in her last year studying sociology and political science at Quinnipiac University and has become a face for the thousands of undocumented youths who seek access to a college education through the Act of Dreams.
This story was originally written in Spanish for La Voz Hispana. GIlah Benson-Tilsen translated it into English.