After graduating last year from Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, Karina Ruiz was afraid to even apply for college out of fear of being deported.
"Then I said, ‘I’ll just go for it,’ " said Ruiz, now studying biochemistry at Arizona State University in Tempe. "Luckily, I had a good GPA, and I was accepted."
Ruiz said there are perhaps thousands of students who are in the same predicament as she was. So on Sunday, Ruiz joined about 500 people from across the state in Chandler to call for support of federal legislation that would grant legal residency status to those who graduate from high school.
The Sunday rally was part of a nationwide drive by supporters of the DREAM Act to urge Congress to pass the legislation, which would allow qualified immigrant students to attend college, and for President Bush to sign it into law.
Demonstrators hoped to pressure for a vote this year on the bill, so named because of its acronym, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
There is bipartisan support for the bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. But the bill, cosponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is being held up by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
If it becomes law, immigrant students who have lived in the United States for five years will be able to apply for legal resident status once they graduate from high school. The bill would also make it easier for immigrant students to qualify for in-state college tuition.
Demonstrators said that illegal immigrant students are too frequently barred from pursuing higher education and left with no other options than a life of manual labor.
Some wearing graduation caps and gowns and others holding signs, the demonstrators marched to Dr. A.J. Chandler Park in downtown Chandler from a meeting point at Food City near Ray Road and Arizona Avenue.
Lizeth Perez, 15, a student at Wilson High School in Phoenix, said she was raised in the United States, and for her to be deported under current law would be like plucking her from her home and being sent to a foreign land.
"A lot of us barely speak Spanish, and we don’t even know the country," Perez said.
A handful of counterdemonstrators carried signs declaring "Amnesty is insanity," but demonstrators reported no confrontations.