Not My SGA

By DailyCollegian.com Staff

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Marsha Gelin/Collegian

On Wednesday night, the Student Government Association (SGA) considered a resolution of support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) Act, a federal bill for undocumented students’ right to education.

Did I say “consider?” The discussion was cut short and shunted to a committee. Congress will vote on the DREAM Act on November 29, with Massachusetts senator Scott Brown still in opposition, and the SGA has passed up their one chance to voice support.

The SGA’s response makes me question whether our student government truly represents the interests of a diverse student body. This issue is very important to students at the University of Massachusetts. For some, it could be life-changing. The DREAM Act is an enormous opportunity for undocumented students to apply for legal immigration status. For students who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, and who spend two years getting a college education or serving in the military, it opens a path to legal immigration status.

This issue hits close to home. Accorsding to Jeffrey S. Passel of the Urban Institute, some 12,000 undocumented students enroll in U.S. public colleges and universities each year, meaning that the UMass population certainly includes undocumented students.

The DREAM Act finally acknowledges these thousands of young adults who grew up like any other kids in America, but hit a wall when they graduated high school or college. You can read some of their stories at DreamActivist.org, under “About Us.” Their status is invisible. Some were not even aware of not having papers, until they started looking for a driver’s license, a job, or financial aid for college – all of which are impossible without an ID.

Even military service, with the education benefits and pension that it confers, is currently forbidden to undocumented persons. Through the DREAM Act, undocumented young adults will be able to serve in the army, make use of a college degree and give back to their communities.

For public universities like UMass, which are actively recruiting students to raise revenue, the bill encourages more students to pursue college. It removes the federal law forbidding states from granting in-state tuition to undocumented students, but it does not change states’ tuition policies.

However, a 2006 study by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimated that letting undocumented students pay in-state tuition would bring $2.5 million to the UMass system and the state colleges. Getting undocumented youth through college will also contribute to the Massachusetts economy, from taxes on their increased income and from the drive they add to the economy as professionals, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers.

For all students at UMass, the DREAM Act means seeing all our peers treated equally. It means that undocumented students among our peers and friends can feel safe speaking up about the problems they face on a day-to-day basis. It means they do not have to be afraid. I want to live on a campus where we hear a full range of voices, and where fear has no place.

This is important – for undocumented students and their peers, for universities, for state economies, for immigrants of all stripes.

The act has overwhelming support, nationwide. According to Immigration.change.org, a recent poll on behalf of First Focus showed that 70 percent of Americans, and even 60 percent of Republicans, support the DREAM Act.

In Massachusetts, the leaders of higher education have come out in support. According to The Harvard Crimson, the presidents of Harvard University, Tufts University, Boston University, Northeastern University, MIT, Boston College and the chancellors of UMass Boston and UMass Amherst have all written to Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown endorsing the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act is a critical piece of legislation, and highly relevant to UMass and the students here. When Congress votes on it in two weeks, Mass. Rep. Sen. Scott Brown, may cast a deciding vote.

So why did the SGA have such a hard time passing a resolution of support? And what can we do now?

I do not mean to paint the whole SGA with the same brush. I appreciate the many senators who listened with an open mind. But SGA as a group failed to deal with the DREAM Act resolution appropriately. The senators in opposition did not engage in an open debate. Instead, they worked to silence the issue. No one demanded a fair hearing. After a brief presentation and no discussion whatsoever, the SGA voted to send the question to the State and Federal Organizing Committee, who, despite their expertise, cannot speak on behalf of the UMass student body.

The SGA will not be sensitive to students’ concerns until students start attending SGA meetings, voicing their opinions to their area senators and voting in elections. By contrast, voters will not care until the SGA takes on big issues, publicly.

The State and Federal Organizing Committee is meeting on Friday, November 19, at 2:30 p.m. in the SGA Office, which is located in the Student Union. All SGA and committee meetings are open meetings, so anyone who wants to speak or hear can attend.

But the real stakes are at the national level. If we want the DREAM Act to pass, we need to jump in now. Sen. Kerry has already promised his vote, but Sen. Scott Brown still needs to hear from his constituency. His website, ScottBrown.senate.gov/Public includes a link to email the senator with comments on issues. His office’s phone number is also available within that link.

We can still organize as a campus, with or without the SGA; the Center for Educational Policy Advocacy (CEPA) in the Student Union is getting the word out this week.

Alexa McKenzie is a UMass student. She can be reached at [email protected]