Service learning: Minnesota senator and lobbyist speak about the Dream Act

Service learning: Minnesota senator and lobbyist speak about the Dream Act

By Jill Englund and David Blomquist
Sophomores in The Changing Faces of Minnesota: A Global Perspective

About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, according to the National Immigration Law Center, but many are unable to afford college tuition.

Minnesota State Sen. Sandra Pappas spoke Nov. 17 at St. Thomas about the Dream Act, a bill she introduced in 2004 that would allow Minnesota students accepted to college who have attended high school for two years to pay in-state tuition and receive scholarships. Currently, federal immigration law requires undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition rates at public colleges.

“Minnesota is competitive when it comes to jobs and the economy because it has always kept a strong commitment to education,” Pappas said in an earlier press release. “The Dream Act would [ensure that] all Minnesota students have an equal opportunity for success.”

Pappas spoke before a showing of “Valley of Tears,” a documentary about a 1979 strike in Raymondville, Texas, organized by Mexican-American workers to protest poor wages and working conditions.

The event was the conclusion of the “Films Without Borders” series sponsored by the Changing Faces of Minnesota, Multicultural Student Services and the University Lectures Committee.

St. Thomas students involved in the Changing Faces of Minnesota: A Global Perspective visit Lincoln International High School, a school for immigrants and refugees, once a week and engage in a group project with the high school students. They learn about different countries and cultures while Lincoln students learn what it’s like to be an American.

“Valley of Tears” documents the significant impact immigrant workers have in the United States,” said Dr. Ellen Kennedy, director of the Changing Faces of Minnesota. “The film ties in very well to St. Thomas students’ experiences at Lincoln International High School.”

Mariano Espinoza, lead organizer of the Minnesota Immigrant Workers Freedom Network, also spoke at the event. The network is organizing a program this spring to teach high school students about the importance of higher education, Espinoza said. Students will lobby at the capitol in March to show support of the Dream Act.

The Dream Act is important because many undocumented students entered the country as young children – a time when documentation was beyond their control, Espinoza said.

During the 2005 legislative session, the Dream Act nearly reached the Senate floor as part of a higher education finance bill, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty threatened to veto the entire bill if the provision remained. The bill’s bipartisan supporters chose to remove the Dream Act so the bill could be passed smoothly.

But Pappas and Espinoza are still hopeful that the Dream Act will be passed in the 2006 legislative session.

“These kids have played by the rules; they’ve studied hard, they’ve gotten good grades and they have a right to an education,” Pappas said in the Minnesota Daily newspaper.