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Jean Quan

Quan, Swanson speak in support of federal DREAM Act

on December 3, 2010

Oakland mayor-elect Jean Quan, Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, and other local leaders joined a handful of Oakland students on the steps of City Hall on Thursday afternoon to urge Congress to pass the federal DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants  a pathway to citizenship.

“This is an issue that’s always been close to my heart,” said Quan, adding that her grandfather came to the United States illegally from China in 1906. “There are children who are brought to the US. It’s not their fault how they got here, or why they’re here. When we deny them the opportunity to get a higher education, it ends up hurting Oakland.”

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, would offer undocumented young people who arrived in the US as minors a way to gain legal status if they pursue higher education or military service.

This current bill is the fifth version of the DREAM Act, the most recent of which was blocked by a Senate filibuster in September of this year, but reintroduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in late November.

This most recent version of the DREAM Act imposes new restrictions, such as preventing illegal immigrants from receiving in-state college tuition; limiting individuals from sponsoring family members for US citizenship; and restricting the eligibility of those who have been convicted of certain types of misdemeanors.

Neither the House nor the Senate has voted on the bill yet, although the House vote may come as early as next week. Democratic party leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama have expressed hope that the Act still might be passed during the lame duck session of the current session of Congress, which ends on January 3rd, 2011.

“What does the American dream stand for, if not this?” said Swanson, who like Quan, urged the approximately 30 people in attendance to call members of Congress and voice support for the bill. “This act is just one way for us to add definition to our democracy,” he said.

Oakland students also shared their thoughts on the DREAM Act, speaking briefly about their experiences as children of undocumented immigrants. “I’ve been attending school here since first grade,” said Vanessa, a 12th grader at Life Academy High School who spoke during the event, adding that current immigration restriction made it more difficult for children of illegal immigrants to afford to go to college.

“I am sure that [the federal DREAM Act] will pass one day,” she said, “so why are we wasting time?”

Earlier this year, California passed its own version of the DREAM Act, based on a previous draft of the federal version of the legislation. The state version made some children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition, grants, and scholarships but did not affect their undocumented status.

The Latino community has the largest undocumented population, but they’re not the only type of undocumented immigrant, said Quan during the press conference, adding that “undocumented people look like all of us. They’re our friends and our neighbors.”

Her remarks were met with cheering from the small crowd gathered on the steps, who clapped, chanted, and even prayed during the event for Congressional support for the bill.

“During my mayoral campaign, I said that Oakland is a city of dreams,” Quan said. “Thank God we’re required to educate our children up to the 12th grade, but without a higher education they won’t be able to follow their dreams.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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