Last Saturday four college students began a 3,000-mile trek by foot across the U.S. in support of the federal DREAM Act, a proposed immigration law that, if passed, would provide a path towards lawful permanent resident status for undocumented individuals who have graduated high school or obtained a GED, and are pursuing a college degree or military service. The students began their campaign with a kick-off rally at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. They plan to visit 285 cities and towns in 13 states to gain national publicity for the immigration bill.
The conclusion of the students' journey in Washington D.C. in October will coincide with the 2012 presidential election campaigns. The walkers and their sponsors chose this specific date in an effort to compel the presidential candidates to seriously consider immigration reform as one of their central platform points. Whereas President Barack Obama has endorsed the DREAM Act but was unable to oversee its passage in Congress, Mitt Romney, currently the most promising presidential nominee for the Republican party, has stated that he would veto the Act if it passed.
The starting point of the DREAM Act campaign trail in San Francisco is indicative of California's progressive stance in rolling out immigration reforms. In June 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California DREAM Act that allows undocumented students brought into the U.S. under the age of 16 to apply for state financial aid for schooling. The passage of the bill found wide-based support from immigration advocacy groups, civil rights organizations, as well as many school-based associations. Many of the bill's advocates, however, have stressed the limitations of the bill in ushering in comprehensive immigration reform at the national level. Unlike the bill for the federal DREAM Act, the California legislation does not grant beneficiaries any positive immigration benefits, as jurisdiction over immigration policy rests in the hands of the Federal Government. For this reason, pro-immigration advocates deem the passage of the federal DREAM Act vital to immigration reform.
As an immigration lawyer with an office located at the heart of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, I was verily impressed by the fortitude of the walkers in embarking on the long trek across the U.S. for a cause that will have a profound effect on their futures. Three of the students are undocumented and one is the first American-born citizen in her family. One of the walkers, twenty-three-year-old Lucas Da Silva, did not know that he was undocumented until he wanted to obtain a driver's permit as a teenager, and his parents finally revealed that he was ineligible to apply. Da Silva's story is representative of the experiences of many undocumented students, who are often brought into the country as young children by their parents.
The campaign has the support of numerous immigration and civil rights groups and community organizations. The Florida migrant farmworker organization, called Harvest of Hope, began organizing the effort many months ago. An outpouring of donations has provided the trekkers with new walking shoes and funding for a van that will drive nearby whenever they reach more rigorous or dangerous terrain. The four walkers were chosen by a committee from a broader applicant pool.