Sunday, July 08, 2012

Fulfillment of a Just and Worthy Dream

Last Updated: 8 July 2012  
By Angela Valenzuela
Angela Valenzuela 
AUSTIN, July 8 - For us in Texas, we should be particularly proud of President Obama’s executive order to not deport DREAM act students.

Why? Because this movement began in Texas with the passage in 2001 of House Bill 1403, Texas’ “DREAM Act” bill, if you will. It was an immigrant tuition-waiver bill that allowed undocumented high school graduates to enter our public universities at in-state tuition prices.

I remember that it was undocumented high schools students and their teachers and other civil rights leadership, including myself as the only scholar, who had organized and testified on former StateRepresentative Rick Noriega’s bill. The late, formidable Chairwoman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education Irma Rangel heard this legislation and passed it out of committee and ultimately it came out of both houses with strong, bipartisan support and was signed into law on June 16, 2001.

Governor Perry himself has been consistently supportive, casting this as a state’s rights and workforce development issue. California followed suit in that same year and now, according to the last report from College Board, there are a total of 14 states with some type of in-state, tuition waiver law benefitting talented high school graduates like these.

Early on, way before the passage of this bill in Texas, skeptics were concerned that immigration is a federal issue and so graduating college students who are undocumented sets these young people up for false hopes and dreams. The response by state leadership is that we should press forward, not only because it is right, but also because this would create pressure from the grassroots to Washington for policy change.

Interestingly, legislation across our nation together with the DREAMer movement, did just exactly this. Increases in college enrollment of undocumented students helped create this very constituency that has now resulted in President Obama’s executive order. This constituency would not have happened—or happened as quickly—however, without the very important—even legendary—leadership role that Texas DREAMers, in particular, played. 

Students like Julieta Garibay, her sister, Montserrat Garibay, Charim Guadarrama, Erik Fajardo, Rebecca Acuña and so many others led the marches, media blitzes, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Congressional lobbying and so on. They are an exceedingly skilled and very politically saavy group. Dr. Alejandra Rincón, who earned her degree in Education Policy and Planning at UT also merits recognition both for her advocacy on behalf of undocumented youth in higher education and her book on this very topic, Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education: Si Se Puede! (LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008).

Not only does this decision by the president result in support from the Latino community in his bid for re-election, but it will also likely encourage untold numbers of currently undocumented students to pursue higher education. While the executive order appears to encourage only a temporary reprieve from deportation for undocumented college graduates, this is nevertheless a shot in the arm for literally legions of activists that have been long engaged in pursuit in this just and worthy dream.

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. she serves as the director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy.

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