June 23 2009

June 23, 2009

Olga Medina
Elena Gaona
(202) 785-1670

Washington, DC—Today, more than 400 youth advocates and supporters gathered at the U.S. Capitol for a graduation ceremony to highlight the contributions of immigrant youth and call on Congress to approve the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2009” (S. 729) and the “American Dream Act” (H.R. 1751). This bipartisan legislation would restore states’ rights to determine residency requirements for in-state tuition and establish a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for students who satisfy certain higher education or military service requirements. The event was sponsored by the United We DREAM coalition. Local graduation ceremonies were also held today in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“The graduation ceremonies are a powerful reminder of the urgent need for immigration reform,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR (National Council of La Raza)—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. “We cannot afford to continue squandering the contributions of the talented scholars, dedicated public servants, and rising young leaders who are caught within our broken immigration system.”

One of the highlights of the graduation ceremony was the presentation of student awards. This year’s awardees included Walter Lara, recipient of the Student Courage Award; Yosub Jung, recipient of the Student Spirit Award; and Benita Veliz, recipient of the Student Leadership Award. Lara, a student from Florida who graduated from Miami-Dade College, has been ordered to leave the U.S., the only place he has known and called home. Jung received the Student Spirit Award for his determination to serve the immigrant community and achieve equal access to higher education for all. Benita Veliz graduated as valedictorian of her high school, attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas on a full scholarship, and dreams of becoming an attorney. She has become ensnared in deportation proceedings, but hopes Congress will approve the “DREAM Act” so she can continue to pursue her life aspiration.

“It serves no one when talented students such as those who met with members of Congress today cannot fulfill their potential. Our nation’s future rests on young people gaining the skills and knowledge they need to be productive citizens and innovative leaders,” concluded Murguía.

The United We DREAM coalition consists of a broad range of groups including organizations focused on youth, education, immigration, civil rights, faith, and labor. In addition to NCLR, other allies based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area include the National Immigration Law Center, Center for American Progress, National Immigration Forum, United States Student Association, Student Labor Action Project, and CASA de Maryland.

For more information about the “DREAM Act,” visit or


Issues: DREAM Act