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Feature

Six people on the Minnesota State Capitol steps.

Louis Mendoza and most of his Dream team on the State Capitol steps.

The Minnesota DREAM team

CLA students help create educational opportunities for immigrant youth

By Andi McDaniel

June 16, 2006

For each of the six College of Liberal Arts (CLA) students who worked on the Minnesota Dream Act legislation this past semester, there were hundreds of community members crossing their fingers. That's because the independent study project wasn't just a personal or academic challenge, it was an effort that would mean better access to higher education for children of undocumented immigrants throughout Minnesota. And for these committed students--Sylvia Gonz?lez-Castro, Abraham Castro, Martha Ockenfels-Martinez, Marianne Baum, Juan Rangel, and Vanessa San Jos?--"undocumented immigrants" aren't just statistics or names in the news, they're family and friends. The Minnesota Dream Act would grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants who have graduated from high school and resided in the state for a specific number of years. Typically, those who qualify would be immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and were socialized as Americans. Under current laws, if they were brought to this country by undocumented immigrant parents, they are considered non-citizens, and they pay nearly three times the amount of in-state tuition to attend public universities in Minnesota. So, many don't attend college at all.

From Mendoza's perspective, the students' work on the Minnesota Dream Act embodies the University's mission. "It is our responsibility [at the U] to take every opportunity to keep the doors open, and when possible, to make opportunities to open them even wider," he says.

Under the guidance of Louis Mendoza, chair of Chicano studies, along with the staff of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network (MIFN), the six students worked on the ground in area high schools, talking to kids about how these issues affect them and about how to get involved. Their work was based on a six-week curriculum developed by MIFN, which culminated in a "Lobby Day" at the State Capitol, when the high school students engaged directly with their legislators. "I can't think of anything more powerful than high school students learning how to use their voices for positive change," says Ockenfels-Martinez of her experience in local high school classrooms. "By empowering [them] to fight for their right to education, we are helping them to understand the very powerful role they have as agents of social change." From Mendoza's perspective, the students' work on the Minnesota Dream Act embodies the University's mission. "It is our responsibility [at the U] to take every opportunity to keep the doors open, and when possible, to make opportunities to open them even wider," he says. Mendoza goes on to explain that particularly for students of color, the "division" between the University and the community is a false one. The two must work together to create change. Gonzalez-Castro shares that view. "About 500 youth in Minnesota would be affected by the Dream Act," she points out. "Although I do not personally know these students, I consider them allies in the struggle for a better future." In a globalized economy, says Mendoza, "Our own well-being is ... tied to the well-being of others in ways that can be mutually beneficial." To work on a project with such far-reaching implications is a far loftier and more demanding task for these CLA students than simply turning in homework when it's due. But these students believe it's worth it. And the countless community members they represent would probably agree.

From CLA Today, spring 2006.


To read about how undocumented immigrant status affected University student Abraham Castro, see The Minnesota Daily article, "Undocumented students face problems in paying for school" .