April 22, 2010

Skorton letter in favor of DREAM Act attracts support of university presidents

Cornell President David Skorton has written a letter in support of bipartisan legislation that would provide some undocumented students with a pathway to permanent U.S. residency. The letter, which has been sent to members of Congress, has also been signed by eight New York state university presidents.

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), would amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to permit states to determine residency for college and university students.

Under the DREAM Act, undocumented alien students who arrive in the United States as minors and who graduate from a U.S. high school would obtain temporary residency for six years. During that time they must acquire a degree from a U.S. institution of higher education or complete at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree, or have served in the military for at least two years and, if discharged, have received an honorable discharge.

After meeting these criteria and having lived in the United States continuously for five years, they would become eligible for conditional permanent residency in the United States.

"I am very excited to hear of President Skorton's support of the DREAM Act. Cornell University, alongside its peer institutions, is certainly in a position to have real effects on the type of attention that the DREAM Act garners within the discussion on immigration reform," said Alex Cárdenas '10, an American studies major.

He continued, "For many of my classmates, the lack of financial support and even the 'othering' of their college experience through the lack of protective measures which would safeguard them from actions such as deportations (which has occurred to Cornell students in the past) allows me to say that we must push to do more for the protection of this country's scholars. The [DREAM] Act is a measure to ensure that thousands of students who wish to pursue higher education in this country have the necessary means and support to do so."

The presidents of the State University of New York, the City University of New York, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Stony Brook, New York University, the University of Rochester, Syracuse University and Fordham University have signed on to Skorton's letter. It has been sent to the New York congressional delegation to ask for its support, and to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to thank them for their work on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The letter reads, in part:

"We would also like to take this opportunity to affirm our strong support for federal legislation that would provide a pathway to legal residency -- and remove barriers to higher education -- for thousands of students who are not legal residents of this country, through no fault of their own.

"As you prepare to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation, we urge you to include the bipartisan 2009 DREAM Act -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- which provides undocumented immigrant children who graduate from U.S. high schools in good standing with conditional residency status.

"This would enable them to enroll in colleges and universities in states that currently do not recognize them and to qualify for some federal and state financial aid benefits as well as in-state tuition.

"Currently, undocumented children can only obtain permanent residency through their parents. Many of these students came to this country as infants. This is the only home they have ever known, the only language they speak. They are the products of our excellent primary and secondary educational system and they deserve the right to access our institutions of higher education and become productive and engaged members of our society.

"This legislation will correct an injustice perpetrated upon thousands of American students and ultimately will benefit our country. It is the right thing to do and should be done now."