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A Dream Act

A Dream Act

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Published by Tom Matlack
Can microfinance revolutionize American education and solve the illegal immigration problem at the same time?
Can microfinance revolutionize American education and solve the illegal immigration problem at the same time?

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Published by: Tom Matlack on Apr 27, 2011
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08/17/2011

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A Dream Act: OnEducation,Immigration, andGoodness
April 25, 2011 ByTom Matlack 3 Comments (Edit)
Can microfinance revolutionize Americaneducation and solve the illegal immigration problem at the same time?
Chelsea, Massachusetts, just over the Mystic River from
 
Boston, is one of the most densely populated areas of thecountry. Bankruptcy and corruption drove the town intostate-appointed receivership in the 1990s, and its reputationfor crime is hardly undeserved. Chelsea saw 10 murders in2010, most of them knifings and many drug-related. Oneteenager was forced to kneel before being shot in the backof the head.But that’s not all there is to Chelsea.On a recent evening at the Chelsea High School, 80 momsand dads, some teenagers, and a handful of babies arepacked into a classroom listening to Magaly Valentin, ananimated Spanish speaker. The audience reflects the originsof the city’s immigrants, with people from Guatemala, theDominican Republic, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico. Many arelegal residents, but just as many are not. At a back table,salsa, chips, salami, brownies, and two-liters of Coke are laidout.A saving circle—a monthly meeting of high school parents todiscuss savings, plan fundraisers, and learn abouthigher education, sponsorships, and ways to finance college—is in session. Magaly, both an instructor and a participantin the program, is explaining how to apply for federalfinancial aid for college attendance through the FreeApplication for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA isuseless to illegal immigrants, but they don’t seem to care; allthe parents in the room are scribbling notes and raising theirhands to ask Magaly questions.“When you say scholarship or grant, that is free money—youdon’t need to pay it back,” Magaly answers, first in Spanishand then in English. She gets to a part of the form that asksabout alimony payments and laughs: “You know, that’s whathappens in Hollywood, not for us.”She makes clear that the saving circle is for parents of allChelsea’s high school children, legal and illegal. “You have tobe a citizen to apply for FAFSA,” she says in Spanish, “but
 
colleges don’t give a shit who you are if you have the moneyto pay tuition.” This eases the awkward separation of legalsfrom illegals for the next part of the evening, in which legalswill file their FAFSA electronically while the illegals will hearabout the scholarships for which they are eligible.
Bob Hildreth is also in the audience, his blue suit, glasses,and yellow tie looking completely out of place in one of theroughest neighborhoods in America. He’s wearing a brightred and white scarf from River Plate, a Buenos Aires soccerclub. He knows the name of every volunteer in the schooland he’s been smiling proudly at the standing-room-onlycrowd. Hildreth, founder and executive director of FamiliesUnited in Educational Leadership (FUEL), wants to increaseeducational funding, end poverty, and embrace immigrants—legal and illegal alike—all at the same time. This savingcircle is part of FUEL’s effort to do just that.“The immigration rights debate is going nowhere butbackward,” Hildreth says, “but there is a need for immigrantintegration. Immigrant children make up the largestpercentage of students in our inner city schools, and theyare failing. FUEL is trying to reverse this by getting low-income parents involved. Improving the education of immigrants is important for America and for our country’swillingness to accept future generations of immigrants.

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Micro-finance: Can it change US education and solve the illegal immigration issue at the same time?
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