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Law would open doors for undocumented youths

Julie Sutor

SUMMIT COUNTY – In Odette Cordoba’s Summit High School yearbook, one can find a teacher’s inscription that reads, “Odette (Einstein!), To my smart student and very nice friend. Thank you for being my student. Viva Panama!”

Cordoba (not her real name) graduated last year from Summit High School and hopes to earn a business degree someday. For now, however, she cannot even apply to a four-year institution, because she is undocumented.

Help may be on the way from Congress for Cordoba and thousands of undocumented students like her.

Last month, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation, dubbed the DREAM Act, that would provide qualified, undocumented high school students who wish to attend college or serve in the military an opportunity to obtain lawful status.

Summit School District superintendent Lynn Spampinato strongly supports the idea.

“We have students who are in our system whose parents work very hard in our community,” Spampinato said. “They know that while everyone else around them can live the American dream, they can work the American dream, but they can’t live it.”

According to Spampinato, no one knows exactly how many undocumented students attend Summit’s schools, but she estimated the figure is about 8 to 10 percent of the student population.

“When my grandparents came from Italy, their hope for their children was that they could become educated,” Spampinato said. “If you can’t get educated at the end of the road, what do you hope for? Are you going to check ski tickets for the rest of your life?”

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., said he supports the concept of the bill, but not the language.

“I had been an original co-sponsor,” Campbell said, “but I asked my name to be taken off when it came out of committee. It sounds like a good idea, but not all good ideas make good laws.”

The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students with conditional permanent residency status if they have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and were younger than 16 when they entered; if they have graduated from high school or have been accepted into college; if they are of good moral character; and if they are not deportable on account of a criminal conviction, alien smuggling or document fraud.

The bill would allow the conditional resident status to become lawful resident status once they obtain a diploma from a junior college or successfully complete two years of a bachelor’s degree program.

Campbell worries that the DREAM Act may become an unfunded mandate.

According to Campbell, schools lose money on students who pay in-state tuition. He reasoned that a large influx of new, in-state students would result in financial challenges to universities, and the bill might be handed to taxpayers.

Campbell also worries about the consequences of the bill, when coupled with Affirmative Action.

“An illegal alien would get preference over an Anglo born and raised in Colorado,” he said.

Another of Campbell’s concerns was that the DREAM Act would turn into a “backdoor for amnesty,” whereby immigrants may cross the border illegally in hopes of using the legislation as a short cut to legal residency.

Campbell is awaiting an estimate of the bill’s potential fiscal impacts, which will help guide his decision.

“There are too many unanswered questions,” he said.

The DREAM Act does contain consequences for program participants who don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

For those who cannot fulfill the bill’s requirements, they would need to demonstrate both a compelling reason why they cannot meet the requirements, and exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if they are removed from the United States.

To become a lawful permanent resident, the applicants must remain persons of good moral character, not be a public charge during the period of conditional residence, or violate any of the criteria initially required to obtain conditional resident status.

“I’m excited about the bill,” Spampinato said. “I think it would change the whole picture window every morning when you get up. It’s a critical time for this.”

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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