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U.S. Senator Urges Wide Coalition for Education, Immigration Reform

DENVER – Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) believes that only by forming a “wide coalition” can significant education and immigration reforms to be undertaken in the United States.

“We need immigration reform and educational reform. But to achieve that we also need a wide coalition that includes not only national pro-immigrant groups but businessmen as well,” Bennet said in an interview with Efe.

In that regard, he said he receives almost daily “calls from businessmen, for example, in the ski industry and in high-tech companies, who understand the need for these reforms.”

Bennet, 47, was named senator in early 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Ritter to replace Ken Salazar, who left his Senate seat to become interior secretary in the Obama administration.

In the November 2010 elections, Bennet defeated Republican candidate Ken Buck to win a full six-year term.

Prior to entering the Senate, Bennet, a graduate of Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, where close to 60 percent of the almost 80,000 students are of Hispanic origin.

His experience as an educator and administrator taught him to communicate with parents, students and teachers, and to realize that even “ideas offered with the best of intentions, like those from Washington,” perhaps lack relevance or are inadequate when the time comes to put them into practice.

“I also learned that it’s of vital importance to provide an adequate education for all our children. In this economic recession, the worst since the 1930s, and despite an unemployment rate above 8 percent, joblessness among people with college degrees is not more than 4.5 percent,” he said.

That’s why, he said, it is “unacceptable” that only one out of every 900 students from poor families manages to successfully complete their university studies.

The grandson of immigrants, Bennet recalls that when his grandparents came from Europe to the United States, his mother was the only one in the family who spoke English. Despite such limitations, his grandparents struggled to “be part of the American dream.”

That experience allowed him to understand and communicate with immigrant students and the sons and daughters of immigrants in Denver Public Schools and to promote the DREAM Act in the Senate, a measure that would allow certain undocumented students access to university studies.

“I know our kids are worried about contributing to society and getting an education. But I also know that many of them find out when they get to the 9th grade that because of citizenship problems they will perhaps be barred from continuing their education,” he said.

The senator acknowledged that “it’s not easy to change existing laws,” but committed himself to “keep trying,” and asked that “these kids not to drop out of school.”

With the current educational gap and the demographic growth of minorities, Bennet fears that “fewer and fewer people will go to college and contribute to society.” EFE

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