The DREAM Team got its name from the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who attend college or join the armed forces.
The DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives in 2010 but failed to pass in the Senate later that year. Martinez said many of the students involved in the DREAM Team were disappointed and dejected.
“There were only two people on the board of DREAM Team when I arrived at campus,” she said. “A lot of people gave up on it and dropped it, but my friends and I were interested in immigration reform and revitalized the efforts of the group.”
Joan Fernandez ’15 worked with Martinez to rebuild the group during their freshman year.
“I went to several student groups, but I didn’t feel like I was making an impact,” he said. “Immigration is something I am really passionate about and knew I wanted to make a difference. We knew there was a DREAM Team on campus, and we decided to make it our own.”
Martinez and Fernandez have since transformed the group into an active advocacy group for immigration reform. Last year, the DREAM Team hosted movie screenings, launched a petition in support of the DREAM Act that garnered 900 signatures and spawned a personal letter of support from University President Shirley Tilghman. They have also partnered with community organizations such as the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition to bring awareness to the issue.
Recently, the DREAM Team began creating a scholarship program for New Jersey high school seniors and current college students. This scholarship would be available to all New Jersey students, regardless of citizenship status. After partnering with organizations such as the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and hosting a fundraising gala at the Fields Center last year, the group raised $6,000 to fund three $2,000 scholarships. Martinez also said that a “generous donor” recently donated an additional $2,000 to fund a fourth scholarship.
Undocumented immigrants cannot receive financial aid or in-state tuition. Furthermore, according to New Jersey law, even children of undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive financial aid even if they are citizens themselves.
For Fernandez, the decision to fund a scholarship program was personal.
“I’m an immigrant myself, and I come from a mostly Dominican immigrant community,” Fernandez said. “I knew a lot of students who were really motivated, but it would be really sad when it came time to apply to colleges and they would just get rejection letter after rejection letter because there were no papers or financial aid. These students had to basically leave their aspirations of higher education behind.”
The DREAM Team is currently spreading the word about their scholarships and will host an awards reception for the winners at the end of the semester. Martinez hopes that these scholarships, as well as the DREAM Team’s awareness efforts, will get more students interested in immigration reform.
“It is likely that people at Princeton have friends, family or people in their community who are undocumented, but they don’t realize because people don’t talk about their status,” Martinez said. “It is particularly important for Princeton students because we are getting an exceptional education, and that happens to be something that lots of students don’t have access to because of their citizenship status.”
Fernandez credited his freshman seminar FRS 128: From Castle Garden to Angel Island, taught by Director of Fellowship Advising Deirdre Moloney, with helping spark his interest in studying immigration. He said he hopes to concentrate in the Wilson School and study education and immigration reform.
“DREAM Team has helped me acclimate to Princeton and made me feel like I was a part of a community,” Fernandez said. “DREAM Team made me feel like I have a place here. I have a voice here.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/26/31269/