Original URL: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/index.php?page=local&story_id=081403a1_immigrant14

DREAM Act could legalize migrants
The House has a similar bill called the Student Adjustment Act.
Tucson Citizen
August 14,  2003


Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants have no way of legalizing their immigration status even though they came to the United States as children, experts estimate.

Their situation was underscored this week after a federal appeals court ruled that a 24-year-old Guatemalan man is ineligible to adjust his legal status and must be deported even though he has lived in the United States since his mother smuggled him into the country when he was less than 1 year old.

The case of Jose Didiel Muñoz resembles the plight of four Phoenix students also facing deportation even though they, too, have lived in the United States since they were children.

But now they have reason to hope.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently reintroduced legislation intended to help illegal immigrant students gain lawful status in the United States.

DREAM Act would allow migrants to remain in the United States legally on the condition they complete two years of military service, two years of college or 910 hours of community service within six years of high school graduation.

Migrants who meet those requirements then could apply for permanent legal residency documents, known as green cards.

Critics warn that such a measure would lead to a broader amnesty program for illegal immigrants. Similar legislation in the past has failed to gain enough support.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Friday that Muñoz is ineligible to adjust his legal status and must be deported. Muñoz, who lives in Los Angeles, speaks English, graduated from high school in the United States and never has returned to his birth country, even for a visit, according to court

Two University of Arizona law school students took his case under the supervision of Assistant Dean Willie Jordan Curtis of the College of Law.

Muñoz's legal case is completed as far as the government is concerned, said Greg Gagne, spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Muñoz has a removal order hanging over his head, but Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virgina Kice could not say yesterday whether he had been deported. Muñoz could not be reached by telephone for comment.

Common problem

Melissa Lazarin, education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, estimated there are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living in the United States who came here as children, though the actual number is impossible to know.

"It's not uncommon," Lazarin said. "These are people who were brought here by their parents, went to school here, speak English and consider this their country and essentially aren't able to demonstrate that."

Andrea Black, executive director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, agreed. Since then-President Clinton signed into law the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, options for migrants seeking legal status have been "drastically reduced," Black said.

"This is just one example of the very draconian effects of our immigration laws," Black said of the Muñoz case. "We see these kinds of terrible results from the laws all the time as people are torn from their families."

Similar stories are especially common in Arizona, where illegal immigration has surged in recent years, said Emilia Bañuelos, a Phoenix immigration attorney

"This is a typical case. I see this every single day," Bañuelos said.

Last summer, four Wilson Charter High School students caught the attention of immigration officials at the U.S.-Canada border while on a school field trip to participate in a solar-powered boat competition  in upstate New York.

Two of the students - Yuliana Huicochea and Luis Nava, both 18,- now are in college and the other two - Oscar Corona, 18, and Jaime Damian, 17 - will begin college classes in the fall.

Nava attends Arizona State University and Huicochea is at Phoenix College. Corona and Damian graduated from Wilson Charter High School in May and plan to attend Phoenix College this fall, according to Judy Flanagan, their lawyer.

In September, a U.S. immigration judge in Phoenix granted the four students until Nov. 28, 2003, to prepare their case, essentially giving them a shot at gaining lawful residency through pending legislation in Congress.

DREAM Act criteria

Hatch said he is confident the DREAM Act will pass. The bill, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would grant legal residency to illegal immigrants who graduate from high school or are accepted at colleges or universities. Applicants also must prove they have lived in the United
States at least five years and entered the country before they were 16.

"While I do not advocate granting unchecked amnesty to illegal immigrants, I am in favor of providing children - children who did not make the decision to enter the United States illegally - the opportunity to earn the privilege of remaining here legally," Hatch said in introducing his measure July 31 on the
Senate floor.

The bill also would repeal a federal law that bars states from charging in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants, bringing down the cost of attending college for scores of migrants.

About 50,000 illegal immigrants graduate each year from U.S. high schools.

In Arizona, education officials estimate half of the 150,000 students classified as English learners are illegal immigrants.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, is taking up a similar fight in the House. His bill, the Student Adjustment Act, differs from the DREAM Act by only allowing migrants younger than 21 to become legal residents.

The DREAM Act sets no age limits. Cannon's bill, introduced in April, has 66 co-sponsors, including three Arizona lawmakers - Reps. Raúl Grijalva, and Ed Pastor, both Democrats, and Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican.

David Ray, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the DREAM Act is "the opening salvo in a larger amnesty debate that is going to sour the stomachs of most of the American public."

He predicted the act would serve as a catalyst for a broader legalization movement including by his organization's estimate, up to 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"The DREAM Act is a sneaky way to open the amnesty floodgates by targeting the most sympathetic group (of illegal immigrants) with the intent of applying it to everyone in the country illegally soon after," he said.