Swarthmore Students Advocate for DREAM Act

Maki Somosot '12

Swarthmore Students
Advocate for DREAM Act

by Maki Somosot '12
4/06/2010

Jovanna Hernandez '13

"With one legislative stroke," says Jovanna Hernandez '13, "it can change the bleak future for many undocumented students who only want an education to pursue a career of their choosing, to apply their knowledge in the service of others, and to participate as full members of society."

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter, Jovanna Hernandez '13 described how her undocumented sister, brought to the U.S. from Mexico by her parents when she was 12 months old, now struggles to pursue her college education at UCLA because she is not eligible for federal student loans, grants, and work-study. As a result of that letter, Jovanna and her classmates Kimberly St. Julian '12 and Katherine Lam '11 advocated for the passage of the DREAM Act at a legislative hearing at the Debating for Democracy (D4D) National Conference in New York City on Apr. 8 and 9.

The D4D Conference is an initiative of Project Pericles, founded by philanthropist Eugene M. Lang '38 and which works with colleges and universities to include education for social responsibility and participatory citizenship as an essential part of their programs. The goal of the conference is to encourage college students to conceptualize practical solutions that address significant public policy issues.

In December, D4D invited students from the 27 Periclean colleges and universities that participate in Project Pericles, including Swarthmore, a founding member, to write a letter to their respective Member of Congress regarding a pressing public policy concern. D4D received 63 submissions. Hernandez and the Swarthmore team were chosen as one of six finalists by a panel of judges. The others included Berea College, Carleton College, Chatham University, Earlham College, and Elon University.

"I wrote to Senator Specter to urge him to reintroduce the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill," Hernandez says. The bill would enable undocumented immigrant students who entered the country at age 15 and under to enter college and the military, as well as qualify for low-interest student loans, grants, and federal work-study opportunities. "With one legislative stroke," Hernandez adds, "it can change the bleak future for many undocumented students who only want an education to pursue a career of their choosing, to apply their knowledge in the service of others, and to participate as full members of society."

At the D4D Conference, the Swarthmore team advocated for 20 minutes before a legislative committee consisting of former U.S. Senators Bob Kerrey, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and Harris Wofford. At the end of the hearing, the committee selected the winning team, Berea College, which received $3,000 from Project Pericles to develop an advocacy campaign for its proposed legislation. The five finalist teams, including Swarthmore, each received a $500 award for the same purpose.

The conference also featured a keynote address by Lourdes Rosado '85 from the Juvenile Law Center.