Something remarkable happened last month during the nation's immigration debate; while the president and Congress continued their prolonged stalemate, the board of directors of the national Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) voted to reverse its 37-year-old policy of excluding DREAM students from its scholarship programs.
This reversal is actually huge news, and it is action that did not require permission from Congress or the executive branch.
The HSF is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, that, since its founding in 1975, has disbursed more than $400 million to more than 1.5 million recipients. Up to this point, not one cent has ever been granted to a DREAM student.
The reason this reversal is huge news is that DREAM students have been held hostage unnecessarily by extreme right-wing forces who believe DREAMers do not belong in college and, worse, do not belong in this country altogether. These right wingers, who are actually a minority in this country, also are seemingly unaware that many of these students were brought here as infants or small children and are thus not guilty of anything.
When governments anywhere war against a class of people, the same people often turn internally for support. In the case of DREAM students and scholarships, looking or turning inward was not always an option. With limited scholarship opportunities, it is a miracle how DREAM students - most who come from the humblest of homes - have made it through college, often having to pay exorbitant out-of-state tuition, which is often at least three times the amount students pay for in-state tuition, which itself is usually also high.
That is now about to change.
What made the HSF reversal possible was the president's creation of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program last year, which legally permits undocumented students to go to school and work. DACA grants recipients a "lawful presence" in the United States.
However, because the HSF is a nongovernmental entity, it did not need to wait for DACA. The government does not dictate to private or nongovernmental foundations as to who can qualify for scholarships, etc. Now that HSF has reversed its policies, it is to be seen whether other scholarship foundations and organizations follow suit.
This is a moral issue and the only ethical course is for the other scholarship organizations to emulate the policy of the HSF. The only people opposed to DREAM students qualifying for such funding are unrepentant bigots, the same ones that think DREAMer parents are a scourge on society. With DACA, and with the action of the HSF, other foundations and organizations now have a precedent.
But how this precedent came about is instructive. A change.org petition of 1,111 signatures was delivered to the HSF several months ago. It should not have required a petition to bring about this change, but it did. Perhaps there is something to mass electronic action. The reality is that it was not the petition by itself that brought about this reversal but, rather, it was the political reality that the DREAM movement itself created that made it possible. It was but a few years ago when DREAM students were still in hiding and publically referred to as "illegals." Nowadays, DREAM students are at the forefront of the nation's human rights struggles. And in hiding, they are not.
That said, the same political conditions exist to bring about change to other national, statewide and local foundations, especially if they are nonprofit, private or nongovernmental entities. Yet even national, state and local governmental entities are accommodating DACA students. Only government officials such as Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne in Arizona are going out of their way to make it extremely difficult for DREAM students to be able to afford and attend college. It seems very likely that within the year many of the other scholarship organizations will follow the HSF lead. Either that, or they will also likely be facing similar petitions.
Is this a fluke only? Or is this the new way to bring about change, including to other social justice issues?
It would be great if public policy came about as a result of the petition process. If so, the war against Iraq would never have happened. The school-to-prison pipeline would be abolished, and it is highly likely that we would have no walls along the US-Mexico border.
But just as the HSF policy change came about in apparent immediate response to an electronic petition, recognition must be given that larger political movements must accompany petitions.
As a reminder, the same week of the HSF reversal, one of the Operation Streamline sessions in Tucson's Federal Court lasted some 34 minutes. Within that time, 70 migrant prisoners were dispensed with – convicted and sent to private for-profit detention facilities or deported. A petition, without the right political conditions, would be ineffective in stopping this most obscene judicial procedure. The right political conditions would be for the president and the attorney general to visit this daily miscarriage of justice.
Perhaps not all petitions will work. At least we know this one has. Thanks to all who signed.
The deadline for the HSF scholarship application is Dec. 15.