Dare to Dream Webinar, Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration
Reflections on Dreamers and the Importance of Advocacy (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
March 31, 2021
Thank you, Miriam, for your kind introduction. It’s a great honor to address you all regarding a topic that is of such significance to the California State University and to all of us in higher education – and one that is deeply meaningful to me personally.
As a few of you may know, I was raised by a Dreamer, decades before the term as we know it was coined. My grandfather was two years old when he and his mother came to California from Mexico almost a century ago. They came here to join my great-grandfather, who was helping to build California’s railroad.
Once reunited, my family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather remembered the experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.
My family eventually settled in a small, agricultural town called Hanford, in California’s Central Valley. I was raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my single mother, who was a beautician. I was the first in my family to go to college, attending UC Berkeley thanks to a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the Valley and from modest financial means.
It was at Berkeley – as I began to see my own life transformed through my college experience – that I discovered my passion for educational leadership. And it’s been my life’s greatest professional responsibility and highest honor to provide that same transformational opportunity to many thousands of students who grew up in circumstances similar to my own. To anyone with the intelligence and drive to succeed, regardless of their race, ethnicity, zip code, financial means, immigration status or orientation. To all who dare to dream – and to follow that dream: a dream of a brighter future for themselves and their families.
In a sense, all of our students are dreamers. And, certainly, all of our students deserve that transformational opportunity – and the security, prosperity and purpose – provided by a college degree.
And our campuses and communities deserve the vital contributions of our Dreamers and DACA students. I am always struck by how often this is overlooked in the national rhetoric around DACA and DACA-like programs. At the California State University, reflecting our core value of inclusive excellence, we are privileged to educate approximately 10,000 Dreamers across our 23 campuses. And they enrich the learning and discovery experience in innumerable ways for the benefit of their fellow students, as well as faculty, staff and campus leadership. Dreamers are among our brightest and most engaged scholars; they are student leaders at all levels of our university and they are active in volunteerism, serving the communities in which our campuses are embedded.
These are our state’s and nation’s future leaders, and we need their gifts more than ever. Their intelligence. Their diverse perspectives. Their drive and grit and willingness to wrestle to the ground any challenge that’s placed before them. Perhaps most of all, we need their fresh appreciation for and heartfelt belief in the American Dream and our nation’s great promise and potential.
So I urge you to join me – and the entire CSU community – in redoubling your advocacy efforts for the protection of and support for Dreamers, including the provision of a clear pathway to citizenship and access to federal aid. Along with doubling the current maximum Pell Grant, this is our number-one federal legislative priority – and you can be assured that it will be at the top of our agenda next week when delegations of CSU leadership, faculty, staff, students and alumni from across our 23 campuses meet with our federal elected officials during our annual “District Week” advocacy campaign.
The time to speak with a powerful and unified voice is now. Despite the fact that the Biden administration supports the DACA program (and the Supreme Court invalidated the previous administration’s effort to shut it down), there are ongoing legal challenges to the validity of the DACA program that pose a threat to its permanence. Moreover, without legislation – the passing of which will require a bi-partisan approach – DACA-like programs will remain subject to the whims of each president and administration. And legislation could provide the opportunity to broaden DACA’s reach, providing support to the full range of worthy individuals.
I am as eager as you are to hear the rest of this afternoon’s program, so I will keep my remarks brief, and close simply by thanking the Alliance for organizing this consequential event and – on behalf of the Steering Committee – by thanking all of you for your continuing efforts to make the American Dream ring true for these talented and deserving individuals: for their benefit and for the benefit of California and our great nation.