Daniel has wanted to be a lawyer his entire life. But the road to achieving his dream hasn't been easy. Growing up in Phoenix, Ariz., Daniel, 23, studied hard and made the grades. But one roadblock stood in the way of his getting a degree: his legal status.
When he was 6, he says his mother smuggled him across the U.S.-Mexico border into the United States to escape an abusive marriage.
Despite finding success in high school and earning private scholarships for his undergraduate years at Arizona State University, things changed when it came time for law school. His illegal status prevented him from being eligible for public scholarships, federal loans or even in-state tuition. Without any other funding, Daniel's dreams became too costly so he dropped out of law school after one year.
"I felt very sad at first and then I got angry," Daniel said with a look of disappointment, readjusting his glasses and looking around at his apartment, reflecting on what it was like when he knew he would have to drop out from school.
Daniel, who would not give his last name, is one of hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as small children. There were 1.2 million children of Mexican descent and younger than 18 in the United States, who were counted as being here illegally, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The children have no expedited paths to citizenship, even though they have grown up here and consider the United States home.
But activists across the nation, including in Arizona, are trying to change that with a piece of federal legislation called the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. It would pave the way for a faster track to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrant students such as Daniel.
Under the act, any illegal immigrant who migrated here before the age of 16 and has lived here for five consecutive years would be able to complete a two-year degree at a college or university, or serve two years in the military in exchange for U.S. citizenship. It would also make the students eligible for grants, scholarships and reduced tuition in many states.
Students would have to graduate from high school and have no criminal record to qualify. They would be given six years to complete their two years of college or military service in order to gain citizenship.
The D.R.E.A.M Act, which was originally introduced in 2002, has been in and out of Congress in the past several years. It failed to pass in 2007 but was re-introduced to Congress in March of 2009. The legislation has 113 co-sponsors in the House, and 34 in the Senate, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Two of the representatives are from Arizona.
And with the recent passing of SB 1070 in Arizona, a controversial bill that makes it a crime to be in the state illegally, activists, including those pushing for the DREAM Act are hoping the Obama Administration will move forward on immigration legislation soon. In a recent speech at Arizona State University, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the DREAM Act legislation is worth fighting for.
"There is a bi-partisan recognition that there is a terrible waste going on by precluding young people from getting a higher education who themselves are not responsible for their presence one way or another in that regard," Napolitano said.