Lofgren dreams of reform for immigrant students in U.S.

Feb. 4, 2011, 2:17 a.m.

U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren ’70 spoke in front of a large crowd in Tresidder yesterday evening. Lofgren discussed her recent efforts to pass the DREAM Act through Congress and the challenges that the bill may face going forward.

The DREAM Act is an immigration reform bill that aims to provide a process through which immigrant students that came to the United States illegally as minors can achieve permanent resident status.

U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren '70 discussed efforts to pass the DREAM Act, which would enable illegal student immigrants to achieve permanent resident status under certain criteria. (KOR VANG/The Stanford Daily)

In the bill’s current version, students qualify for permanent residency if they arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, lived in the country for a minimum of five consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school and are “of good moral character.” These students could apply for a six-year “conditional” legal resident status.

At the end of this six-year period, they would be eligible to become permanent residents if they completed at least two years of higher education in the U.S. or served two years in the U.S. military.

Though the House of Representatives passed the bill last December, it was blocked by filibuster in the Senate.

Lofgren, the senior Democrat on the House Immigration Subcommittee and one of the bill’s chief proponents, lamented the fact that the bill has not yet been enacted into law. She referred to the illegal immigrant students that the DREAM Act seeks to naturalize as “de facto Americans.”

“When I think about this bill not passing, I think about these young people who have done all the things they were supposed to do, who stayed in school and got good grades and played by the rules,” Lofgren said. “And now the country they grew up in is not theirs legally, and they have no prospects for the future.”

Throughout her speech, Lofgren strove to address misconceptions and arguments often put forth by opponents of the bill.

“It is common to hear horror stories about the negative impact that immigrants could have on our society, but if you look at the statistics, immigrants are more law-abiding in general,” she said. “They have higher rates of entrepreneurship, and they are more active in small business development than Americans born here.”

Lofgren was pessimistic about the bill’s prospects in the immediate future, pointing to the Republican majority that took office in the House in January and that immigration has recently become a polarizing topic.

“This is one aspect of immigration reform on which we really should all agree, a bill whose roots are in fact bipartisan,” Lofgren said, adding that John McCain, among other Republicans, was a co-sponsor of the bill in 2001. He later withdrew his support in response to the changing political climate.

“There are some who feel this is a divisive issue that can be used for political advantage,” she said. “That is not helpful in terms of facilitating an honest political process.”

Yesterday’s talk was organized by the Stanford Immigrant Rights Project (SIRP) and co-sponsored by a number of other student groups.

“I hope students were able to take away a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of immigration politics, but more importantly, a sense of urgency to learn more about the issue and take some action,” said Alexandra Salgado ’11, a SIRP member.

Lofgren is currently serving her eighth term in the House of Representatives, representing California’s 16th congressional district based in San Jose. She received a B.A. from Stanford University in 1970 and a J.D. from Santa Clara University in 1975.

“I speak about immigration from a personal perspective,” Lofgren said. “My grandfather was an immigrant who came here because he wanted to be free.

“I am in Congress today because we had a country that allowed a young man who just wanted a better life to join our nation. Unfortunately, that is not the state of our country today.”

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