Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/243/metro/Immigrants_children_press_education_rights_at_Harvard+.shtml

Immigrants children press education rights at Harvard
Vow to challenge US laws blocking access to college
Boston Globe
By Jenna Russell,

AMBRIDGE -- A dozen Massachusetts high school students rallied at the gates of Harvard Yard yesterday, vowing to fight the laws that threaten to block their access to a college education.

The students, all children of illegal immigrants, didn't want to give their names, for fear that their families would be targeted by immigration officials. With the help of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which organized yesterday's event, they are pushing for passage of new laws that will allow them to seek legal status in their adopted country, and qualify for in-state college tuition rates.

Four of the students will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby members of Congress to pass proposed federal legislation, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act.

''We are here, and we didn't choose to be here,'' said one of the students, a 17-year-old National Honor Society member from East Boston, whose family came to Boston from Mexico three years ago. ''There are two decisions the government can make -- to deny us an education, and have us be their janitors, or to give us an education, so we can have good jobs, be successful, and contribute to the community.''

Between 50,000 and 65,000 graduates of American high schools each year are the children of illegal immigrants who have been in the United States five years or longer, according to the coalition. Since 1996, a federal immigration law has required public universities to charge foreign-born students out-of-state tuition -- which can be three times more than in-state rates -- if they cannot provide a green card.

The group's leaders said the new federal law would allow those who arrive before age 16, stay at least five years, and graduate from high school to apply for conditional legal status, and would grant them access to in-state tuition. Their status would become permanent upon graduation from college.

A similar legislative proposal in Massachusetts proved controversial earlier this year, with state Senator Guy Glodis, an Auburn Democrat, calling it a ''giveaway'' that would diminish the value of being a citizen.

Students at the Harvard gates yesterday shared dreams of careers in journalism, business, architecture, and veterinary medicine. A Chelsea mother who came to the United States from Guatemala 15 years ago, and now works as a convenience store manager, said the thought that her children will not go to college brings her to tears. ''It's my dream and their dream,'' she said.

A recent high school graduate from Brockton said she applied to four schools in Massachusetts, and was told she would pay out-of-state tuition and would not receive a diploma upon graduation. Born in Brazil and fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, she said she wants to be a nurse and a hospital interpreter.

''I could help a lot of people,'' she said. ''In the future, this country is going to need us to do things.''

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.