By Valarie Honeycutt-Spears – firstname.lastname@example.org
Fort Wright police told four Central Kentucky college students to leave the lobby outside the offices of Sen. Jim Bunning Wednesday where they were advocating for a proposal that would help children of illegal immigrants earn permanent residency.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act would grant temporary resident status to college students or military members who entered the United States before their 16th birthday, have lived here for five years, have graduated from high school and have good moral character. Those affected would be able to receive financial aid in the form of student loans, obtain authorization to work and get a driver’s license.
Students who go on to receive a college degree or receive an honorable discharge from the military would receive conditional permanent residency.
Elizabeth Jacoby, a leader of the Kentucky Dream Coalition, said that a total of eight people — four each day — wearing academic cap and gowns sat “peacefully” in the lobby outside the Republican senator’s offices on Tuesday and Wednesday. One was a University of Kentucky graduate, the others were students at Asbury University, Bluegrass Community and Technical College and UK.
Fort Wright Chief of Police Dan Kreinest said Thursday that the building’s property manager called his department because a tenant other than Bunning’s office had concerns that the students were on private property.
An employee at a physician’s office in the building who identified herself in a telephone interview as Jamie Grguric said the office staff was concerned that the students’ presence would be upsetting to the offices’ pediatric psychiatric patients.
“We did not call the police,” said Mike Reynard, Bunning’s press secretary.
The students are trying to gain the support of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation for the DREAM Act.
The Kentucky group is part of a national movement that has held similar vigils in other states. Three students demanding to meet with Arizona Sen. John McCain were arrested last month for refusing to leave his Tucson office, according to the Associated Press. Also last month, students were arrested outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office during a protest.
In the Kentucky incident, Police Chief Kreinest confirmed that a police officer told the students they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the building. The students then moved across the street and held up protest signs, Jacoby said.
“We did not wish to be arrested, so we did leave the property,” Jacoby said. “We’re going to cooperate, … but we are not going to give up.”
About 500 illegal immigrants graduate from high school in Kentucky each year with little opportunity to attend college or serve in the military, the organizers have said. They have no choice in coming to the U.S. without documentation and many have no ties to their native country, proponents say.
Last month, students advocating for the DREAM Act participated in a 65-hour fast at BCTC.
Jacoby said Bunning’s staff members would not let them sit in his office, but did not prevent them from sitting in the lobby.
Jacoby said the group would not try another sit-in at the building. But she said that students returned to Bunning’s office Thursday to leave some information about the DREAM Act and planned to stop by every day “as long as it takes” in hopes of talking to him.
Bunning’s staff members have already met with the students, but Jacoby said they want a face-to-face meeting with the Senator.
Reynard would not comment on Bunning’s position on the bill. In the past, Bunning has opposed the measure.
“We don’t want to cause too much trouble,” Jacoby said. “We just want a chance to be heard. We want people to understand that the Dream Act is not amnesty because students have to earn it (legal status) by going to college or serving in the military.”