Students travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby for DREAM Act

Students delivered a clear message to Congress last month: Ensure access to a college education to all students who wish to pursue one.

A group of Panthers joined hundreds of students from across the country in Washington, D.C., lobbying for passage of the DREAM Act and urging Congress to preserve critical financial aid programs that are targeted for cuts in the federal budget.

The 14 FIU students and one advisor were in the nation’s capital as part of the United States Student Association’s (USSA) 42nd Annual Grassroots Legislative Conference and National Student Lobby Day, March 18-22. USSA is the country’s oldest and largest student-led organization.

“This is the first time that FIU students have marched on Capitol Hill in favor of USSA’s WTF (Where’s The Funding) campaign,” said Christin “Cici” Battle, former Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC) Student Government Association (SGA) president and leader of the trip. Battle is FIU’s national outreach officer for USSA.

The DREAM Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year but failed in the Senate. It seeks to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth whose parents brought them to the United States. They would have to stay out of legal trouble and pursue higher education or serve in the military for at least two years. Currently, undocumented students are ineligible for financial aid or in-state tuition.

“We believe a substantial number of FIU students would benefit from passage of the DREAM Act,” said Denise Halpin, BBC’s newly elected SGA president.

USSA’s WTF campaign is a legislative advocacy movement to increase public investment in higher education at all levels – local, state and national – in the face of state budget cuts and tuition and fee hikes.

Currently 16,000 FIU students receive Pell Grants and that number is growing.

Students who went to Washington spent four days attending several workshops leading up to the final day and the march on Capitol Hill. Some workshops defined what constituted an undocumented student while other workshops explained student rights.

During the march students voiced their opinions. Speakers included USSA Vice President Victor Sanchez, undocumented students and individuals from 35 campus delegations. Groups from Morehouse College, Temple University, Cheyney University and University of Wisconsin, among other universities, participated.

After the morning rally, FIU students met with the Legislative staffs of eight Florida representatives, including staff members from the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

— Tiffany Huertas