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Stanford trustee brings immigration issue, film to campus

Stanford Board of Trustees member Laurene Powell Jobs joined filmmaker Davis Guggenheim for a campus viewing of The Dream Is Now, Guggenheim's new documentary on immigration reform.

John C. Liau Laurene Powell Jobs, Davis Guggenheim and Alejandro Morales at Stanford event

Stanford trustee Laurene Powell Jobs, documentarian Davis Guggenheim and activist Alejandro Morales talk about Guggenheim's film The Dream Is Now.

The immigration reform debate is often argued by pundits and politicians. A new documentary, shown this week at Stanford, aims to personalize it.

The 30-minute film, The Dream Is Now, tells the story of four teenagers who were brought to the United States by their parents but do not have permanent legal authorization to live or work in the country. They each have different aspirations – one wants to be a doctor, another a Marine, for example – but are limited by their status.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, who won an Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth, the new film is part of a campaign to change immigration laws spearheaded by Guggenheim and Stanford Board of Trustees member Laurene Powell Jobs.

The film was shown Tuesday during an event sponsored by the Undergraduate Program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and included a panel discussion with Powell Jobs, Guggenheim and one of the stars of the film, Alejandro Morales.

The panel was moderated by Consulting Professor Jim Steyer.

David Palumbo-Liu, a professor of comparative literature, opened the event, saying the program aimed to give "critical insights into the Dream Act and its centrality to our discussions about citizenship in the 21st century – something that too many of us on the one hand take for granted and on the other hand are too quick to deny to others."

He said the film and discussion would help show what immigration reform means, "not through abstract notions, but through concrete examples of how the debates around immigration and citizenship impact individual lives."

Powell Jobs said she became interested in immigration reform several years ago while working with College Track, an afterschool program that helps high school students prepare for college.

She said some of the students were limited because of the "extraordinary flaw" in the immigration system that kept them from being eligible for most forms of financial aid and had them worried about deportation.

Powell Jobs, founder of the nonprofit Emerson Collective, which supports social entrepreneurs and organizations working in the areas of education, social justice and conservation, said that while there is much momentum in Congress and across the country for reform, an overhaul of immigration laws still may not be within reach.

"We can't just sit by and watch people not represent us properly," she said.

She urged the Stanford community to harness the same courage to speak out as those documented in the film.

"Each one of us needs to do something, needs to push the limit just a little bit," Powell Jobs said.

Guggenheim echoed her appeal to rally for reform. He said the documentary is available online to screen to friends and groups and in classrooms.

"Even if you don't completely agree with it, if it spurs a conversation, that's wonderful," Guggenheim said.

The Dream Act would provide an expedited path to citizenship for many of the immigrants brought to the United States illegally when they were children. The main components of the Dream Act are incorporated into the current immigration bill being debated on Capitol Hill.

"This is a moment where we have to figure this out. Or we won't figure it out," Guggenheim said.