Students push for immigration reform

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On May 12, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said he will no longer co-sponsor federal legislation that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Once a supporter of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors legislation – known as the DREAM Act – Lugar changed his mind about the bill just two days after Gov. Mitch Daniels signed House Bill 1402, which denies in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants in Indiana.

For students like Omar Gama, the new law is another setback on the elusive path to citizenship.

Gama, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant who has lived in the United States since age 11, will begin his junior year this fall at Indiana University, where he is president of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs Undergraduate Student Association. If he were to attend full-time, his annual tuition would jump from $9,028 to $27,688.

sb590-15col.jpg Five undocumented immigrant students sat on the floor of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office on May 9, in protest of Senate Bill 590 and House Bill 1402. Pictured here are twin brothers Erick (left) and Uriel “Omar” Gama. Both are students at Indiana University. (Photo courtesy Stephen Pavey)

“Right now, I’ve been applying for private scholarships,” Gama said. His parents will help pay for the remainder of his tuition, as they have in the past, but it will be a struggle for them to cover costs for Gama and his brother.

“Even if I have to go into being a part-time student and do one or two classes per semester, the signing of this bill is not going to stop me from getting an education,” Gama said.

Increasingly, Gama and other undocumented immigrant students have been making their presence known in an effort to draw attention to the DREAM Act, which if passed, could allow them to become citizens by attending college or serving in the military. On May 9, Gama and four other students were arrested during a protest at the Indiana Statehouse when they refused to leave Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office. Wearing caps and gowns, the students joined arms and sat in a circle, waiting to ask the governor to veto HB 1402 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 590. They are scheduled to appear in court June 14 to face criminal trespass charges.

Through websites like, students can learn about what student activists are doing in other parts of the county. While sit-ins and rallies may be drawing attention to their cause, the push for reform is not new.

“As a group and as a movement, we’ve seen young people working towards DREAM for 10 years now,” said Kathy Souchet-Mourda, a board member with the Latino/a Youth Collective.

Having waited half their lives for an opportunity to become citizens, they are putting themselves at great risk, she said, in order to make a stand.

“These are young people who are coming out of the shadows,” she said. They are students who have grown up, she explained, afraid of what might happen to them as undocumented immigrants. But now, “They’re owning that status – being proud of who they are – as students, as young people, as contributors to their society,” Souchet-Mourda said.

In 2010, the Indianapolis non-profit La Plaza, along with the LYC and other Latino groups, presented an award to Lugar for his longtime support of the DREAM Act. Gama, when asked what he thought about Lugar withdrawing his support of the act, said, “I honestly don’t know what to think. I just hope that if and when it comes to vote, he will support the DREAM Act like he has for nine or 10 years.”

Lugar’s communications director, Andy Fisher, issued a statement that said the senator would not co-sponsor the new DREAM Act introduced by congressional Democrats because of President Barack Obama’s May 10 speech in El Paso, Texas.

“President Obama’s appearance in Texas framed immigration as a divisive election issue instead of attempting a legitimate debate on comprehensive reform. Ridiculing Republicans was clearly a partisan push that effectively stops a productive discussion about comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act before the 2012 election,” Fisher wrote. “The DREAM Act focuses on a select few high achieving students who would pay their own way to go to college or would join the military, and would not be recipients of government assistance. It is a very rigorous path, not amnesty, for a few good students who are not responsible for decisions their parents made. They should not be used in a political game. By doing so, the Obama Administration has guaranteed the bill will not move in this Congress.”

Souchet-Mourda said that Obama could do more to help people like Gama. Some students in other parts of the country who have announced their status are now facing deportation.

“Right now, in absence of the DREAM Act, President Obama could provide an administrative relief for our DREAMers,” she said. “It’s a waste of resources trying to deport students. There’s definitely a push on our side to give these young people some sort of relief from deportation as they’re working hard, going to school, doing all the things that we told them to do.”

She said she would like to see more local efforts to support immigrants who want to become citizens. “We’re already investing dollars in helping them to get through K-12,” she said. The DREAM Act is just one small step toward addressing the larger question of how to give all students – immigrant or otherwise – access to higher education, Souchet-Mourda said•


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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

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  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise