Students, professors and immigration lawyers delivered a lot of history and information at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, but it all built toward one message: It’s safe to dream, but you need to work for it.
Two panels – one of immigration experts and the other of college students who have studied at some of the state’s top universities but could face deportation after graduation – offered advice and resources to students and parents who gathered at Fontana High School on Monday.
But organizers said the biggest goal was pushing for the DREAM Act, legislation that would allow such students to become citizens.
For some students on the panel, the dream has been a long time coming.
"My parents came here looking for the American dream," said Ivan Rosales, who in the spring will have a degree in biology from Cal State San Bernardino but not papers establishing citizenship. "What am I going to do after I graduate? I can’t go to medical school (as an illegal immigrant). I want to become a military doctor, and give back to the people who are giving for us."
While current law allows illegal immigrants to pay in- state tuition rates to attend state universities in California, Rosales’ goal of giving back is more difficult. That path is currently littered with obstacles, including an inability to apply for financial aid and many medical schools’ unwillingness to accept illegal immigrants.
However, The DREAM Act – which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – offers a path to citizenship for certain illegal aliens who earn a college degree or serve in the military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised on Sunday to push to pass the DREAM Act in November, before the beginning of a new session of Congress – presumably one that will be more conservative and antagonistic to such legislation.
That’s none too soon, said UCLA alumna Andrea Ortega.
"Many times, politicians have said we will get relief in two years," Ortega said. "We are living the reality, and we can’t afford to wait two years."
Participants argued that the measure would boost the economy and be most fair to children who grew up considering themselves Americans despite being brought across the border illegally by their parents.
To qualify, applicants must demonstrate that they entered the United States more than five years before the law was enacted and at the age of 15 or younger. Other requirements include currently being younger than 35.
All told, about 825,000 immigrants are likely to become legal residents if the DREAM Act passes, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research group.
Opponents say the proposal is a back-door amnesty program that would encourage more families to cross the border illegally.
About 50 people attended the event, which offered resources in English and Spanish, including personalized answers for parents whose students intend to apply for college.
The town hall meeting was the first held by the Inland Empire DREAM Team, composed of students at local colleges who advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act.