Immigrant student bill moves forward in Minn. Senate

12:32 AM, Apr 3, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Excerpt of Dream Act debate

Mariachi group performs at Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A state senate panel Tuesday passed a bill that would make some undocumented immigrant students eligible for financial aid and in-state tuition in Minnesota.

The Prosperity Act, formerly known as the Dream Act, moves on to the Senate Finance Committee. It may also be incorporated into a larger higher education bill, if it doesn't remain as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, the chief author of Senate File 723, has carried similar legislation for the past six years at the State Capitol.

She asserts that high school students brought here as children by their parents, who entered the country illegally, should be afforded the same opportunities to continue their education.

Supporters believe the idea stands a better chance than ever of becoming law, because Governor Mark Dayton supports it and both chambers of the legislature are controlled by Democrats.

Throughout the day groups of Latino high school and community college students visited lawmakers urging them to support the bill.  Some, connected with the group known as Navigate, attended the hearing.

"Right now I don't get access to financial aid, nor do I get access to public or private scholarships," Nestor Gomez,  a student at North Hennepin Technical College, told KARE.

"This bill will change that an allow me to get financial aid, at a time when I'll need to be going to another college."

Gomez, who wants to become a bio products engineer, is typical of the students who call themselves "Dreamers" in the context of immigration reform. He was brought to the US at the age of 9 by his parents, who crossed the border without permission from the US government.

Some of those who made the rounds at the Capitol were born in this country, but are supporting siblings and friends who are not citizens or legal residents.

"I know some undocumented students who have a 3.5 or higher grade point average, but they don't even know if they can go to college because of these papers they don't have," Gizel Villarreal, an Austin High School student who was born in Minnesota, told KARE.

"These kids had no choice in the matter, and now they consider themselves Minnesotans. They shouldn't have to give up on contributing this state when they finish high school"

To qualify for in-state tuition, the undocumented immigrant students would have to live in Minnesota for at least three years and have a high school degree, or equivalent. The residency requirement for financial aid would be shorter.

The bill would require that the students sign affidavits confirming they're in the process of applying for permanent residency, or that intend to in near future.  Immigration reform measures pending at the federal level may also come into play.

Democrat Pappas and Republican Senator Julianne Ortman debated several amendments at length, including one that would've given legal immigrants preference over undocumented students for slots Minnesota universities.

Another change Ortman proposed would require more documentation from the federal government that the students are taking the proper steps to put themselves on the pathway to citizenship.

Earlier in the day supporters of immigration reform held a rally in the Rotunda, followed by a performance on the Capitol steps by a mariachi orchestra.

The event was sponsored by La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a faith-based group that advocates for immigration and civil rights. 

The rally honored the work of Cesar Chavez, who rose to fame as a Latino civil rights activist after successfully organizing migrant farm workers in the Southwest and California. 

Chavez, who died in 1993, would've turned 86 on Easter Sunday and was honored by Google on its home page that day.  He co-founded the National Farm Workers Union, which is now known as the United Farm Workers. 

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