Photo illustration by Michael Uribes
The goal of all college students is to one day hold a degree that would lead to a much desired job. But for undocumented students with a degree, acquiring a job is against the law.
To be allowed to attend four-year colleges and universities, undocumented students have to apply as AB 540 students, which entitles them to pay in-state tuition. These students receive no government aid and after graduation are not allowed to legally work.
Adriana Sanchez, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Spanish, Chicano and Latino Studies, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Relations, is one of thousands of undocumented students in California who are AB 540 students.
“I am a student, and I plan to be a student as long as I can,” Sanchez said. After completing her master’s, Sanchez plans to pursue her Ph.D. or attend law school.
If in the future, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act is passed, the bill would help students like Sanchez to legalize their legal status. If her legal status does not change, Sanchez plans to “look for opportunities, even if they are outside of this country.”
“Every year we have hope that the DREAM Act might pass,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez hopes the Dream Act passes because she wants to stay in the U.S., which has been her home since she was 12 years old.
“For me, home is where my family is, and where my friends and people I care about are, so this is where my home is,” Sanchez said.
“An Unfinished Dream” by Margarita Reyes analyzes this phenomenon; the documentary addresses myths, realities of undocumented students and immigration laws. The film shares statistics while sharing personal stories of AB 540 students.
The film will be screened Friday, May 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Peters Education Center Auditorium. Fresno State AB 540 students will be present to share their personal stories. Reyes, lawyer Robert Rubin and Sanchez are among some of the speakers who will be present to discuss the future of AB 540 students.
Reyes, co-director of the documentary, said she decided to make this movie to encourage viewers to “see the students on the screen as who they are, human beings, and not as some status.”
Reyes said that she was unaware of AB 540 students’ existence until one of her classmates and friends shared her legal status with the class.
Critics of the DREAM Act see this legislation as an amnesty that would be an incentive for new immigrants to enter the country.
The passage of the DREAM Act “will benefit young people who are here without documentation,” Fresno State political science professor Dr. Mark Somma said. “It is believed that it will cause another large number of migrants to come.”
“This will be the second amnesty act the United States has had in 30 years, and that will cause another large wave of migrants to come and put more pressure on the border,” Dr. Somma said.
The DREAM Act will only apply to young individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children. The DREAM Act does not apply to anyone arriving later. The requirements to be eligible for legalization through the DREAM Act requires all applicants to be of good moral character, and these applicants will be selected through a lengthy and rigorous process.
To apply students would have to join the military or attend a college or university. The DREAM Act has not passed because of lack of political support.
Dr. Somma said that voters don’t understand the difference between the DREAM Act and previous amnesty laws. “You have to know enough about the legislation to distinguish between the two and most people don’t,” he said. “I think the lack of trust in public officials suggest that even if you told people that, they wouldn’t believe you.”
“I think that a broad middle of the American people would insist that the border have a stronger protection and then pass the DREAM Act,” Dr. Somma added.
Fresno State professor of sociology Dr. Bridget Conlon calls the inability of undocumented professionals to legally work a “horrible injustice.”
“Giving people the opportunity to be recognized as equal to an American citizen and not be seen as somehow less is extremely important to people’s individual identities,” Dr. Conlon said.
“Some people would perceive it as unfair or unjust, but I think that part of what we need to work on is changing the policy and educating people about what [the policy] means,” Dr. Conlon said. “It’s a bad economy for everybody. There is a tendency to blame somebody.
Undocumented immigrants are perfect targets for that in the Central Valley.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, there will be a shortage of skilled workers, which is needed by the U.S. to compete in the global economy.
Baby boomers are retiring and “without a dramatic change in course, U.S. employers will face a drought of 3 million workers who possess the education and training necessary to fill jobs by 2018, according to a new Georgetown University report.”
“The U.S. will have a shortage of talented, educated individuals that they are currently turning away,” Sanchez said. “They don’t have to wait to have shortages; they should take advantage and promote education instead of turning people away.”
Robert Rubin, a lawyer who has been fighting for rights for undocumented students for 30 years, will be present on May 6 during the screening to explain the situation undocumented students face. He helped establish the current rights undocumented students have today, such as the right to pay in-state tuition.
“I hope this is not a period of time we will look back at and regret the unbelievable step of not fully accepting these students, who want to contribute to our society,” Rubin said.
Filmmaker Margarita Reyes compares this phenomenon to spending time and money on a car and after 12 years of invested time and money the car is “finished and it’s gorgeous, but you can’t put a license plate on it. This is what we are doing to these students.”