With the future of the DREAM Act resting in the hands of state voters next month, a panel of experts joined together yesterday afternoon to discuss immigrant rights at stake this election season.

The DREAM Act was the hot topic of discussion, sponsored by this university’s Center for the History of the New America. Speaking before an audience of about 40 students and community members in Nyumburu Cultural Center, Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s) explained the finer details of this legislation, which stands as Question 4 on the state ballot and would allow in-state tuition for eligible undocumented students if passed.

“I was this poor kid from El Salvador that ultimately went to the state house and proposed something that got the attention of a whole state,” Ramirez said.

The panel also included university President Wallace Loh, who emigrated from Peru as a college student. He argued race plays a factor even today in how voters decide who has access to certain opportunities.

“Ideally [race] should not make a difference, but rather the content of character,” Loh said.

Along with the DREAM Act, panelists also discussed the federal deferred action program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to request a permit to live and work in the United States for a renewable period of two years without fear of deportation.

Laura Vazquez, an immigration legislative analyst at the National Council of La Raza, said many undocumented immigrants are skeptical of this new opportunity, with some awaiting election results before deciding whether to take advantage of the program.

“It is asking them to come forward and give their documents, so we’ve certainly have seen a lot of hesitation,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez also discussed the efforts her organization and CASA de Maryland have made in recent months to advocate passing the DREAM Act.

Janelle Wong, director of this university’s Asian American studies program, said immigrants are slowly but surely gaining a greater voice in the political process.

“Immigrant voters are currently underrepresented, but these immigrant voters are going to come at political age,” Wong said. “They are not an electoral tiger ready to pounce, but they are going to enter the electorate at a relatively slow, steady pace.”

She then added, “Fear the immigrant voter turtle!”

Several students who attended said they felt more informed about the DREAM Act by the end of the forum. Elissa Fischel, a junior American studies major, said she feels the DREAM Act is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. She noted that to be eligible for the DREAM Act, students have to prove they or their parents have paid income tax for the past three years.

“The taxes requirement is unfair because it affects the students, when it’s often the parents who have to file the taxes,” Fischel said.

Junior communication major Pamela Marquez, however, said she fully supports the passage of the DREAM Act.

“For Laura [Vazquez] to talk about how hard these organizations worked these past months to get the DREAM Act passed reinforced my commitment to the bill, and I’ll definitely vote in favor of it now,” she said.