Fighting for immigrant rights
Amanda Pereira ’15 helps achieve a Rhode Island policy change
Hundreds of people, including both supporters and dissidents, crowded a Rhode Island College field house, eagerly awaiting a decision that could change the lives of thousands of illegal immigrants. People paraded signs declaring their views, asking for change or voicing their disapproval. Their boisterous chants and protests echoed across the room as final testimonials were spoken from the podium. After years of anticipation and tension, a vote would finally decide the verdict.
On Sept. 26, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education approved a policy change allowing illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition if they have attended high school within the state for at least three years.
This change came after years of controversy and lobbying, including the involvement of Amanda Pereira '15, an immigrant herself who worked the past few years to advocate for the important policy change.
Pereira first became involved in this fight for equality through an organization called Young Voices, which teaches students how to advocate for important policies that affect our youth.
"Because immigration is such a personal issue to me, and the issue was coming up in the legislature, the co-director of the organization put me into contact with some people who would let me testify in court," Pereira said. "And when I was 16, I started testifying at the statehouse."
Since then, Pereira's involvement in the cause has only grown. She continued to testify in front of the Rhode Island Board of Education and argue why she believes in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is necessary.
"Usually the main points that I cover when I testify are that it is about opportunity, not about their immigration status," she said.
She argues that many immigrants, like herself, came to the U.S. at a young age and know nothing else. "For myself, I can barely read and write Portuguese. My education is American," she said.
Pereira and her family moved from Brazil to the U.S. when she was only six years old. They wanted to achieve better social standing and have more opportunities and a better life.
"[My parents] knew there was an economic crisis in Brazil, and my father had lost his job, so they knew that in the place we were, their kids were not going to get the opportunities they wanted us to," she said.
While her family first arrived on a visitor's visa, they exceeded the 11-month time period and held the status of undocumented immigrants for the next two years. Though they eventually became legal through a lengthy process and fight, her family has been waiting since 2001 to attain permanent residency.
As a legal and documented immigrant with a Social Security number, Pereira believes that her testifying is important to the cause because she is able to act as "one of the voices for people who can't speak up," because they are undocumented and have to hide.
Though she is young and may not be a legal expert on the matter, she believes her firsthand experience with immigration has been instrumental in helping her testify on why the policy is needed.
"[The] situation could have easily been me," she said, stressing the emotional pull of the case for her.
After years of fighting, the vote, which took place Sept. 26 by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, made Rhode Island the 12th state to allow illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition.
While the crucial change proved a tremendous victory and drastically decreased in-state tuition for illegal immigrants from $25,912 to $9,824 per year, Pereira adds that there is still more to be done.
Though the vote was a unanimous one, the policy change has not yet been voted on by the Rhode Island legislature. Therefore, any succeeding members of the Board of Governors not in favor of the policy holds the power to reverse the ruling. "We will continue lobbying for the legislation until it passes," Pereira said.
She therefore plans to continue lobbying with a group called Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities, which acts as a support group for undocumented students. The group gathers speakers to testify at hearings, organizes lobbying and gets the greater Boston community involved.
And in an effort to spread the change which began in Rhode Island, Pereira joined the Student Immigration Movement, an organization working to pass a similar tuition policy change in Massachusetts.
In the meantime, Pereira is working to advocate the much-needed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, a national legislative proposal started in 2001 that could grant residency to students of "good moral character" who graduate from high school and then attend college or enlist in the military.
While there is currently no club on campus that deals with student immigration issues, Pereira hopes to bring the work she is passionate about to campus and possibly start a club that would educate and involve Brandeis students.
She is also considering a major in International and Global Studies to help her pursue immigration law, a possible career choice for her.
"[Policy reform] is so important because no matter what side of the debate one stands on, it's important to realize that the issue of immigration is not going away, especially as the world population continues to grow," she said.
"Both sides can also agree that the immigration system in place right now is not working and needs some serious reworking and change," she said.
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