Oregon teacher makes student DREAMs come true, remains hopeful for immigration reform


by Colleen Flaherty

Oregon teacher Roger Berger has seen the effect of a broken immigration system firsthand. He is an adviser to Generation College at Hermiston High School, a club that provides support to students who are the first in their family to attend college.

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“These students want to pursue their education, but without some financial support – either through access to loans or even an opportunity to go to a state school without paying out-of-state tuition – it’s a real challenge,” said Berger.

Berger began Generation College nine years ago when he noticed a problem with some of his bright students who were set on going to college, but would change their minds by the end of the school year.

“I went back and asked these students if they had anyone in their family go to college. In most cases, the answer was no,” said Berger. “My wife was a first-generation college student, and so we started looking at some of the challenges and how we could solve that problem.”

They came to find that many of these students weren’t familiar with the college application process such as when to apply, how to get scholarships and what was even required of them to be accepted to a four-year school.

“They were excellent students, but they didn’t have anyone at home they could ask these questions. We sat down and talked about what we could do to solve that problem, and the kids suggested we start a club.”

Since then, the first students who founded the club have succeeded and graduated from college. Berger is hopeful for his former students who are still dealing with immigration-related issues. He points to President Obama and members of Congress from both parties working to push forward comprehensive immigration reform.

“All of our undocumented students went on to two-year colleges and graduated with their associates, but now they’re in a situation where it’s difficult to go on because . . . they can’t work,” said Berger.

Fortunately, just last week the Oregon State House passed a law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

“They’ve told me if something happens where they can have a path to citizenship, then they’re going to pursue their four-year degree. Others are excited because they just want to look for a better job.”

Berger said he’s noticed misconceptions about immigration reform, including the idea that these students are looking for “an easy path.” That couldn’t be further from the truth, he clarified.

These students had no say in the matter about being in this country, and now this is where their home is and it’s all they know. All they want is a way to become a citizen or have an opportunity to work in this country.

“Right now, there is no path. There is nothing for them to do that makes any sense. They just want to know what the steps are, and they’ll do it. They’ll work hard and contribute and do the right thing. That’s all they’re looking for.”

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