Organizing for the DREAM

Organizing for the DREAM

SGA member Samantha Hubbard marches around campus with fellow Dreamers. Photo by: Glenn Daniels, Jr.
SGA member Samantha Hubbard marches around campus with fellow Dreamers. Photo by: Glenn Daniels, Jr.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or in its colloquial form, the DREAM Act, is a body of legislation that would give undocumented minors between the ages of 15 and 35 conditional permanent residency provided that they meet a series of requirements. The most notable of these requirements is admission into an institution of higher education and military service. This bill attempts to amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) and to consolidate comprehensive immigration reform into one bill.

Immigration reform is undoubtedly needed, and the DREAM Act is said to be a step in the right direction. The most recent version of the bill was shot down in the US Senate. Although it is not often portrayed as such, the DREAM Act is a movement. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the authors of the bill, have attempted to push the bill to become law since 2001.

For a decade, the bill has undergone revisions, heavy scrutiny, and filibusters on the Senate floor. With the failure of politicians to pass the bill on a federal level, state legislatures, with pressure and guidance from their constituents, have now authored their own versions of the DREAM Act. Along with Maryland, the states of California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin have authored their own versions of the DREAM Act that grant in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Students at Towson University launched their own campaign to increase awareness, encourage voter registration, and dispel myths about immigration. Lizzy Hurtado, a nursing major at Towson University in her junior year transferred from Montgomery College in the Fall of 2011. She is president of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc (LTA), Delta Psi Chapter, member of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), and a member of a newly formed group: the TU Dream Team.

Beginning last semester, Hurtado began supporting the MD DREAM Act and has been more active this semester in order “to help make a difference.” Apart from the federal DREAM Act, the MD DREAM Act only offers in-state tuition to undocumented students who have graduated high school.

Hurtado states there are plenty misconceptions about the MD DREAM Act from people who are not educated on the issue and hold prejudices against undocumented immigrants. Hurtado stresses this legislation is not just for Latinos, rather it is for any undocumented student. It is unfortunate that a large number of Americans associate the term undocumented with being Mexican (and the racial prejudices that come with that). Still, the media uses racially-charged terms like “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant”.

She reached into her backpack and pulled out a flier and sticker encouraging students to vote for ‘Question 4’ on the ballot. On this November's Maryland ballot, Question 4 will determine whether the MD DREAM Act will be upheld. The flier has a link to CASA de Maryland—a local immigrant rights organization—at the bottom showing the wide influence CASA has with local student groups and organizations. In fact, Hurtado’s Facebook page is filled with event fliers and images of events endorsed by CASA and a range of other organizations who have worked 24/7 to make the dream a reality.

On October 2, members of Hurtado’s sorority participated in a march that snaked through the Towson University campus. Students held up signs from their respective student groups. A member of the Student Government Association (SGA) held a painted sign marked, “SGA supports the MD DREAM Act” while another was a take on John Lennon’s song Imagine: “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.”

When asked what it felt like to march around campus, the SGA member responded, “I felt like to some people we really did get a message across. It felt like we were there for a purpose.” After the march, students gathered in Freedom Square where actual DREAM Act beneficiaries and the Executive Director from CASA, Gustavo Torres, addressed the marchers. A woman from West Africa spoke of her experience and why she supported the DREAM Act.

At this juncture one begins to understand Latinos are not the only beneficiaries.

In a phone interview, Unai Montes-Irueste, a columnist for Politic365, remarked, “We talk about the DREAM Act as if it is about brown people who came to this country by swimming across a river or climbing a fence.” In fact there are large populations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the region that would benefit from this legislation being passed in Maryland. Montes-Irueste repeats a mantra that has been stated by opponents in convincing voters: “These are dreamers who are choosing to be American and they're choosing to invest their talents in the United States.”

These minors and young adults were brought to America by no choice of their own and over the years in this country have been raised as Americans. Now they wish to participate in the economy but are not free to do so because of a broken immigration system.

Samantha Hubbard, a very politically-minded student, sat down with me in the SGA office to discuss her efforts in organizing for support of the DREAM Act. Hubbard mentions that the discourse is plagued by people who are not entirely informed about who qualifies for the DREAM Act. To combat misinformation and biases, she uses her background organizing with CASA de Maryland and Equality Maryland to bring enthusiasm and creative strategies to her Towson peers. Even before joining activist and advocacy campaigns, she picked up an interest in extracurricular organizations during her sophomore year.

“I started going to student groups and I realized I was really good at fixing them and making them run smoother,” says Hubbard. She felt she could do the same with SGA, so last year she interviewed for the position and became a member of the SGA. Since then, she has been an active member in a handful of student groups and organized four successful multicultural events. In fact, she was the one who organized the march and rally on Towson’s campus, and is responsible for the creation of the TU DREAM Team.

“I don’t want Towson or the students here to be on the wrong side of history,” Hubbard declares as we wrap up the interview. She sees the MD DREAM Act as a matter of fairness to undocumented minors and an essential piece of legislation in upholding human rights.

Upworthy, a social media site that promotes thought-provoking videos, shows the precarious nature of living as undocumented in America. These are not robbers, they are not gang members, and they are not murderers—they are our nation’s brightest students. The bill’s supporters will vote for Question 4 not only because it promotes fairness, but it strengthens our local economy by investing in these students.

Glenn Daniels Jr is a senior at Towson University majoring in Anthropology and Cultural Studies. His interests include audiovisual and multimedia production, visual anthropology, social movements, tackling issues of race, and "organizing and agitating." He can be reached at glenndanielsjr[at]gmail.com and on Twitter @lemonsandkiwi.