University Forum Addresses Undocumented Students
Posted: March 18, 2011 at 6:05 a.m.
FAYETTEVILLE — Carlos Guzman, 22, studies architecture at the University of Arkansas. He lives in the country undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid.
Guzman and two other university students came "out of the shadows” at a forum Thursday as part of an event to discuss issues facing illegal immigrant students. Guzman and students Jonathan Chavez and Frank Berlanga openly declared their illegal immigrant status.
"I’ve reached a point where I can no longer pretend that I belong to a government that doesn’t even know I exist, much less recognize my efforts,” Guzman told a crowd of about 70 people at the university. "I am tired of living in the shadows.”
The forum was put together by Hispanic fraternity Phi Iota Alpha’s local chapter. The forum was tied with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance that is encouraging illegal immigrant students to publicly voice their challenges this week. They call the week "National Coming Out of the Shadows” week.
At the heart of the forum is last year’s unsuccessful attempt by Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the Dream Act.
The act would have given permanent residency to undocumented students that immigrated at a young age and graduated from an American high school. The act was first introduced in 2001 and failed.
In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill. However, the bill was short five votes of reaching the floor in the Senate. University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart supports the Dream Act.
"I believe that it’s a crime to not allow it to advance in debate, but I also believe as an eternal optimist that some day the American people will demand that it will be passed,” Gearhart said. "I don’t know when. I hope soon.”
State Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, began his freshman year as a legislator in January. He introduced a bill in January requiring undocumented Arkansas students to pay out-of-state tuition in public universities. His bill has not left the House Committee on Education to reach the floor for a vote.
"I introduced the bill because it’s one of the first steps in curtailing illegal immigration in the state of Arkansas,” Harris said. "I don’t want to deny anyone education. My children, other people’s children, are going to be going to the University of Arkansas.”
Some people might argue allowing undocumented students the same collegiate privileges as legal students encourages illegal immigration, Gearhart said. Teams of students are not crossing the boarder to get an American education, he added.
"I want you to know that I certainly do not condone illegal immigration, but the reality is on a national level, our immigration policy is simply not working,” Gearhart said.
Students who want to pay for college will find a way to afford tuition, Harris said. Harris graduated college in 15 years paying for most of it himself, he added.
Guzman works 25 to 30 hours per week as a waiter while taking almost a full-time class schedule. His parents pay for tuition. He pays for rent, food and transportation.
"We value (Harris’s) view,” said Rafael Garcia, who belongs to the fraternity. "What he’s not saying are the challenges that these students have. They cannot work legally or apply for financial aid. If there was a legal way to do things, trust me, they would do it.”