In this August 2012 photo, Eder Rosas, an undocumented immigrant, protests with other students protest at the Arizona Capitol.
Cesar Valdes came to America in a glove compartment.
Granted, it was a large one. And Valdes says he was a skinny 4-year-old. Still, he was crammed. In a glove compartment.
But it was worth it, he said, to stay out of sight.
“I remember we were told to stay quiet,” he said. “We had candy to keep us from crying.”
Valdes, 20, has since graduated from Cortez High School in Phoenix and taken classes at Phoenix Community College. Despite his Mexican roots, he considers himself a “patriotic American.”
But under Arizona law, he’s part of the problem.
“It tugs at your heartstrings because you know that these people have been brought to the United States when they were children and they had no control over it,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told a Phoenix news station Tuesday. “But I believe in the rule of law.”
Brewer is known for her stance against illegal immigration, having signed legislation that pro-immigration groups say put her at odds with the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but failed in the Senate, would open a path to citizenship for undocumented youth that arrived as minors.
Arizona makes it particularly difficult for these students to receive a college education, said Carmen Cornejo, adviser for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. She says high non-resident tuition costs prevent many from attending college or forces them to take only one or two classes.
Financial aid in Arizona is also based on immigration status, similar to several other states. Though undocumented students can receive in-state tuition at certain Arizona community colleges by applying for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, they cannot apply for state grants.
Just west of Arizona, California’s own version of the DREAM Act took effect this year. It allows students who have attended a California high school for at least three years and earned a high school diploma to receive state aid.
Though undocumented students in California have long been paying in-state tuition, California College Democrats President Paul Murre said the California DREAM Act is one step closer to improving immigration policy, which President Obama addressed Tuesday.
“What’s important to take from the California DREAM Act is that higher education is always important for us,” said Murre, a political science senior at San Francisco State University. “It’s always been important for growing our economy.”
Murre said Democrats in California have long pushed for more liberal policies to aid students who, through no fault of their own, came to the country illegally. The upcoming academic year will be the first time these students receive public aid.
“For tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, I think it’s really going to be something huge, something monumental,” Murre said. “Not just that they can afford a four-year degree, but it means something to be recognized by our country.”
Northern Arizona University senior Rachel de Jesus, who studies elementary school and special education, said she sees the effects of illegal immigration on a near-daily basis.
But de Jesus, whose grandfather emigrated legally from the Philippines when he was 18, does not support statewide or federal versions DREAM Act.
“I don’t want to just like hand people citizenship, because I think you need to work for it,” she said. “People sometimes think I sound like an elitist because I was born here, but I still think if you’re from out of the country you need to work for it.”
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