Clinton aims to make dream real Senator wants to see law passed to legalize status of illegal immigrant high school grads.
By Jose Cardenas Of the Morning Call
PHILADELPHIA | U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton got a standing ovation Monday at a convention of the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization when she pledged support for federal legislation that would make it easier for high school graduates who are illegal immigrants to attend college.
Clinton, D-N.Y., made her remarks at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza, which said it has drawn almost 23,000 people from around the country, including Hispanic leaders from the Lehigh Valley, to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
''I hope with your help we will make the DREAM Act reality this year,'' said Clinton, a potential candidate for president in 2008.
The so-called DREAM Act would give an estimated 65,000 illegal immigrant students who graduate from high school annually legal status that could lead to citizenship.
The legislation, which has been supported by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has been introduced twice but has never come to a vote. Supporters hope it will be reintroduced this year.
In her remarks, Clinton referred to a rally that convention attendees held over the weekend in center city Philadelphia in support of the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minorities Act.
Clinton praised four high school students from Arizona featured at the rally. Organizers said the illegal immigrants beat students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a science competition, but can't attend college because of their status. Supporters of the DREAM Act point to such success stories as examples of talented students who would come to a dead-end after high school.
''I want to be sure I get their names,'' Clinton said of the students from Arizona. ''I want to make sure these students go to college.''
Students' illegal status renders them ineligible for financial aid. Labeled international students, they must pay up to three times the tuition of American students, making college financially unfeasible. And even if they earn a degree, they remain illegal immigrants, unauthorized to work.
The National Council of La Raza, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was established in 1968 and says its mission is to fight poverty and discrimination and improve life opportunities for Hispanics.
In her remarks, Clinton said that while organizations like NCLR are doing their part to promote education among Hispanics, the government is not doing enough to, among other things, bring down high dropout rates and make college affordable.
Among other issues, Clinton talked about the high representation of Hispanic children and adults in lead and paint poisoning cases and the high-cost that Hispanic immigrants pay to wire money to their home countries. In the last two cases, she said she has proposed legislation to remedy the problems.
Clinton was preceded in her speech by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She praised President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative for helping bridge the gap in student achievement between Hispanic children and their white counterparts.
Spellings said gains among Hispanic children have helped in the overall academic improvement reflected in recently released data. The National Assessment of Education Progress report last week, she said, shows that reading and math scores have improved among 9-year-olds.
''These results did not come out of thin air,'' she said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, who also addressed the convention, focused on the need to develop Hispanic leaders in the United States in the political and corporate arenas. He also had praise for Hispanics, particularly Puerto Ricans, who have served in this country's wars.
He shared a story of a mother in Puerto Rico who received news that her son, Ramon, had died in Iraq. He said the mother was sad but did not cry. Instead, he saw in her somber face a look of ''orgullo,'' or pride.
''Thanks to Ramon,'' Acevedo-Vila said, ''we can be proud to say it is our time'' to become leaders in the United States. ''Lo hemos ganado con sangre y sudor.'' (We have earned it with blood and sweat.)
The conference, which began Saturday and ends today, also featured sessions on topics such as strategies to incorporate Latino prisoners into society and providing affordable housing to the poor.
Today's speakers include Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and his Republican counterpart, Ken Melhman, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.
It's the first time the chairmen of both national committees will speak to the NCLR. That's a sign that both parties recognize the importance of the 40 million Hispanics in the country and their potential voting power, according to the group.