As many as 15,000 high schoolers in southeast Michigan can’t go to state colleges and universities even if they’re exceptional students, because they aren’t U.S. citizens and can’t afford the higher costs foisted on resident aliens.
A group known as MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) wants to change that. Its effort gained momentum last weekend as numerous politicians, including both major candidates for governor, and thousands of representatives from more than 70 churches showed up at Greater Grace Temple, where a task force was formed to support new federal laws regarding immigrant students.
The Rev. Donald Hanchon of southwest Detroit’s Holy Redeemer Catholic Church says he was pleased at the “overwhelming and emotional endorsement” for immigrant education. Congress is considering several bills to allow high-school graduates who’ve lived in the United States for five or more years to be considered residents for tuition and grant purposes. Sunday, state Rep. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, said he’ll work on drafting a state measure, while Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, and Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow said they’ll support the change in D.C.
Movements to get top immigrant students into college are taking shape in California, Illinois and Texas, but the bill with the most traction came from an unlikely source: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch’s DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, after he and a bipartisan group of senators spoke of students unfairly denied access to education. The act would repeal the section of 1996’s immigration reform law that effectively bars state universities from granting residency to immigrants. “Until something is done to give them an incentive to go to school or be in school, they’re going to become victims, sell tacos or clean floors or get involved in drugs. After high school, then what?” says Hanchon.
Maria Enriquez, a MOSES volunteer, says Michigan’s dropout rate among Hispanic students is 50 percent. “Mind you, “ she says, “some of these people have been in the system from kindergarten to high school, and they are not eligible in their states to get financial aid or scholarships or loans to go to college. The reality is that their parents, some of them, have worked here most of their adult lives, with or without a federal Social Security number. They are working, buying houses, saving money and paying taxes. They are contributing at all levels of society. They contribute to the economy’s growth, but they don’t reap the benefits of the American Dream.”Send comments to [email protected]