Students walk from Miami to D.C. campaigning for immigration, education issues

In Self-Publishing on February 2, 2010 at 12:48 am

GAINESVILLE – Many activists go to the capitol in Washington, D.C. Few walk there from Miami.

“We have blisters up to our noses,” jokes Felipe Matos, 23, who has been walking since January 1 with Gaby Pacheco, 25, Carlos Roa, 22, and Juan Rodriguez, 20.

Thursday was Pacheco’s birthday. It was also when they completed their longest daily distance: 22.6 miles. The walkers arrived later that day at UF for a rally at about 2 p.m. in front of Tigert Hall. After, they visited with students and participated in a discussion forum.

These four students from Miami-Dade College are on the Trail of Dreams, a walking campaign to raise awareness and influence the passage of legislation to provide undocumented students with temporary residential status, which would enable them to engage in higher education.

Meeting with legislators is an important component of their interactions. They ask officials to meet with them as they pass through different districts. Those who are game are encouraged to join the walk.

Their primary goal is to influence the passage of the American Dream Act. This act would allow students who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 and have been living here for more than five years prior to the act’s passage to gain the documentation they need to enroll in postsecondary institutions.

“We want to be a whole person—not a shadow,” Matos said. “Education is a human right, but it has become a privilege.”

Members of CHISPAS, the Coalition of Hispanics Integrating Spanish sPeakers [sic] through Advocacy and Service, find that opponents of the act are often not informed of its content. CHISPAS member Raul Baca said that if he can engage people in conversation, they are often much more understanding.

Cost is often a concern of opponents, as many are concerned about further burdening college budgets.

CHISPAS president Bianca Gras explained that the American Dream Act would not, however, make students with new documentation eligible for financial aid. It would open the door to private scholarships and work opportunities, which are the make-or-break factor for many students. This is the situation for Matos who has been accepted to Duke University however cannot obtain funding at this time.

“You know, it’s not the kids’ fault,” said Rommy Torrico, a member of CHISPAS.

Often students are brought to the U.S. during early childhood. They consider themselves Americans and are confused when they turn 16 and find out they can’t get a driver’s license, Torrico said. That confusion can turn to hopelessness when they also find out they can’t go to college, she said.

“The economy is down. These kids can help,” Torrico said. “That’s all they’re asking for: a chance to help the only country they’ve ever known.”

CHISPAS members hosted the walkers along with several other organizations and Assistant Vice President for University Affairs Mary Kay Carodine.

“For me, they are the epitome of why I do the work that I do,” Carodine said. “They are students who have taken their education and thought about what it means to society.”

Attendees said they were shocked to hear that Matos was turned away from UF. He said he was told not to apply when he called the admissions office to discuss his options.

“As a graduate of UF, I would be honored to have you attend here,” responded Fran Ricardo, director of education for the Rural Women’s Health Project.

Her sentiments were echoed by Jose Soto, a Ph.D. candidate who assists in teaching an economics class.

“These students are the envy of any university,” Soto said. “They truly deserve to go to college like all kids in this world.”

But education was not the only message. The Trail of Dreams walkers and supporters also shared a message of unifying with all people who fight for equality and a better standard of living.
Christian Hansen, 45, a member of the Queer Activist Coalition and Sustainable Urban & Rural Florida, sees the Haitian crisis as a component of this unity.

“Haiti has reminded us that we can do something right now,” Hansen said. “The government must act in a humane manner for fair and equitable immigration policy.”


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