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SANTA CRUZ – Twenty-five college students who are raising money for school and promoting greater access to higher education for undocumented students rode into town Saturday, a little worse for the wear due to several mishaps, on day two of a nine-day, 540-mile bicycle ride from UC Berkeley to UC Los Angeles.
The second annual Tour de DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act ride is a student effort to raise awareness around the barriers to education some students face. They hope pending legislation – House of Representative Bill 1751 and Senate Bill 729, or the DREAM Act of 2009 which was first introduced years ago – will make college a more attainable goal.
The bipartisan legislation would grant states a way to allow undocumented students, who meet specific requirements, to receive expedited federal assistance to earn a college degree, participate in military service and have a path to citizenship. Both bills seek to amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to permit states to determine state residency for higher education purposes.
“Now I am an American citizen but I remember how it felt when I had a work permit and how intimidated I felt,” said Christian Alvarado, 25, a senior who is majoring in community studies at UC Santa Cruz. “I want to give opportunities to other students and help improve our economy. If we give people an opportunity to work with a degree after college, it will help our community a lot.”
Each year, the DREAM Act gets a little more support, said Erik Ramos, 22, who is another of six UCSC students on the ride. Ramos, a fourth year politics and Latin American studies major, is at the helm of a tandem bike with Alvarado who is legally blind. The pair practiced for several months to get in shape for the ride.
“Immigration is a hot topic these days,” but rather being a symptom of stronger sentiment, it’s just a more public expression of what’s always existed, Ramos said. “For us, it pushes us to press our legislators. Each year it’s looking better and better.”
The journey so far has included steep hills, flat tires, spills and run-ins with cars. The group spent the first night in sleeping bags at the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, getting up on Saturday around 5 a.m. to hit the road to Santa Cruz only to have to drive part of the way in vans due to injuries involving a few riders. They didn’t expect the Santa Cruz Mountains to be quite so formidable.
Monica Hale, 21, a senior at UCSC majoring in feminist studies and theater arts, suffered a flat tire in Berkeley but said the group has received encouragement along the way from passing drivers and had a chance to raise awareness. Hale grew up hearing stories of how her great grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Michoacan, Mexico.
“This country is a country of immigrants and there are specific laws put in place that go way back due to racism to keep people out of the system,” Hale said. “It’s broken immigration system we see today. Eventually we would want real reform.”
Tony Madrigal, Santa Cruz City councilman and strong supporter of the DREAM Act legislation, said he wants to see opportunity for education equalized “on as many levels as possible.
“It’s part of the American dream that we all aspire to achieve and that we should all have access to through higher education,” Madrigal said. “I was fortunate enough to receive higher education through public universities and programs and I’m grateful to this country for making my American dream more accessible. And I only hope we continue to provide those opportunities for future generations through positive legislation like the DREAM Act.”
With about 100 miles under their belt, the group and eight-person volunteer support team will travel today about 46 miles to CSU Monterey Bay, to King City, Paso Robles, Guadalupe, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Their biggest days are day four, a 72-mile day to get to King City, and day seven, a 75-mile day to get to UC Santa Barbara.
For information on the DREAM Act, House of Representatives Bill 1751, visit http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1751; for information on Senate Bill 729, visit http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-729.
This article was first published here.