This article was originally published by WireTap magazine.
April 3, 2009
Every day Sofia Campos commutes four hours by bus to attend her classes at UCLA, a journey that would take forty minutes by car. “A lot of us do,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. The “us” she’s referring to are the fortunate few of the 65, 000 high school graduates who are then able to go on to higher education.
At 17, when she was beginning the grueling college application process, Campos learned that her immigration status made her ineligible for any federal or state funding to finance her college education. She was devastated, but she considers herself lucky: Her parents were able to scrape together the funds by wiping out the family’s savings. Campos is now a college sophomore. Sofia Campos is one of thousands counting on the passage of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act. If passed, this bill, aptly referred to by its acronym, the DREAM Act, would make undocumented students eligible for citizenship within six years if they complete two to four years of higher education or military service. This past weekend, the United States Student Association (USSA) hosted its 40th annual legislative conference. Students from colleges and universities around the country gathered in the capital for three days of meetings, trainings and brainstorming sessions that culminated in a day of lobbying congressional representatives in support of two pieces of legislation: the DREAM Act and Obama’s 2010 higher education budget appropriations that would improve access to student loans. Every year the conference helps students lobby on their own behalf, explains USSA Vice President Greg Cendana. But this year was a little different. “When was the last time you felt so welcome here [in Washington]?” asked Jeff Blum of USAction. Gilberto Chacon, a veteran LegCon attendee and USSA board member, felt similarly. “The climate is very different,” he said. “Even within the Capitol there seems to be more energy.” Washington has seen many crowds over the past few months, but none of them quite like this: A column of neatly-coiffed young people who could have passed for Hill staffers, clutched cups of coffee and chanted, “Ain’t no power like the power of students ’cause the power of students don’t stop!”