In the midst of the upcoming presidential election, the issue of undocumented student education and the DREAM Act have been dominant topics. This has motivated some students at the University of New Mexico to fight for equal-educational rights.
According to an article in USA Today, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of these students go to college. New Mexico is one of only 10 states in the nation to currently allow in-state college tuition for undocumented students and one of only two states to offer these students state funding.
"If we denied educational funding to undocumented students, I think that would hurt the United States. People think these students are wasting our country's money, but they are really adding to our economy. If we allow them to be educated, they can join our workforce which in turn can be more selective," said Sal Guardiola, a UNM student and member of Amnesty International.
Undocumented students in the country are awaiting the passage of the DREAM Act, a legal action that would allow them to attend college and earn funding, as long as they have attended high school in the U.S. and are willing to sign an affidavit claiming they will file for citizenship. According to statistics from Amnesty International, passage of the DREAM Act would increase national tax revenue by $2.3 billion over the course of 10 years. Many student groups at UNM are fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act, with specific goals in mind.
"Here at the university, we are trying to communicate to leaders that this is an important issue of equality. We want to get every student the right to obtain a higher education. I can't think of anything negative to say about it. We want to sponsor more scholarships, give them better aid, give them better advisement and get them adjusted here as students," said Joe'l Trujillo, the young adults deputy state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Since UNM is one of the few schools in the nation to allow both in-state tuition and funding for undocumented students, groups at the university are seeking to help both undergraduate and graduate students from other states and to further educational rights in the state as well. Marisa Silva, the president of UNM's Graduate Professional Student Association (GPSA), said education for all students will only benefit the community.
"You don't want our young people to think by and large, 'If I want to make a decent living, I only have two options. I can either work three minimum-wage jobs, or I can make the same amount of money in illicit trades like the drug trade going on in the country.' GPSA helps our graduate students, and we do not discriminate," Silva said.
According to Trujillo, one of the founders of UNM's LULAC council, students attending college now are not just the future leaders of the country, but the current leaders as well — and this requires that all students receive higher education.
"Education is a human right and shouldn't be denied because someone is born outside of our borders," Guardiola said.