Pubdate: Wed, 29 Nov 2006
Source: Daily Bruin (UCLA, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2006, ASUCLA Student Media
Author: Rotem Ben-Shachar


 From Drug Regulations to Immigration Rights, Students Promote Their 
Causes Across Country

After studying drug regulations in their public policy class, Eric 
Gorin-Regan and Daniel Walter were hooked - on public policy, that is.

One year later, their interest would take them and fellow student 
Matt Nazareth to Washington, D.C., to lobby about drug policy issues 
as part of a developing political student group called Students for 
Sensible Drug Policy, or SSDP.

"We were excited about doing it," Gorin-Regan said. "(We) found that 
drug policy is the kind of subject where the more you learn about it, 
the more you're interested in it."

Though third-year political science students Gorin-Regan, Walter and 
Nazareth are still in the process of making their club official at 
UCLA, they went to the nation's capitol in mid-November to lobby 
about drug policy issues with congressmen.

The opportunity came after the three began working with Professor 
Mark Kleiman on a Web site that gives up-to-date information on drug policy.

The Web site caught the attention of Micah Daigle, the field director 
of SSDP, who contacted the students and encouraged them to start a 
chapter of the organization at UCLA during the summer.

Gorin-Regan, Walter and Nazareth traveled to Washington, D.C., for an 
SSDP national convention. There, the students met with 
representatives from the offices of Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne 
Feinstein as well as congressmen representing their own districts.

Gorin-Regan met with Sam Farr of the 17th district, which includes 
the Monterey Bay region, and Walter and Nazareth met with Henry 
Waxman of the 30th district, which covers the UCLA area.

The students spoke to the congressmen about the Aid Elimination 
Penalty enacted in 2000 as part of the Higher Education Act. The 
provision denies financial aid to students who have drug convictions, 
Walter said.

In early 2006, Congress amended the law so that only students 
convicted while in college would lose their financial aid. 
Gorin-Regan, Walter and Nazareth lobbied to repeal this provision completely.

"This provision has so many negative effects," Walter said. "It hurts 
students (and) it's fiscally irresponsible."

Gorin-Regan said he sees their trip to Capitol Hill as the beginning 
of their relationship with congressmen.

"It's a starting point. They now know who we are. We are laying the 
groundwork for a future relationship," he said.

And Gorin-Regan, Walter and Nazareth are not alone in their efforts. 
Other student political organizations have been going beyond the UCLA 
campus recently, taking their interest in politics to the state and 
national headquarters.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council has participated in 
off-campus lobbying for years and plans to do so once again in early 2007.

Delegates organized by the USAC office of the external vice president 
plan to lobby in Sacramento in February with the University of 
California Student Association and in Washington, D.C., in March with 
the United States Students Association.

Tina Park, USAC external vice president, said the office lobbies for 
a wide range of subjects yearly and that lately it has focused mainly 
on financial aid and student fee issues.

Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, a student group with 
concerns regarding immigration, also lobbies in Sacramento to support 
laws that help undocumented students.

IDEAS lobbies for a smaller range of issues, focusing on laws dealing 
exclusively with immigration topics, said Matias Ramos, the project 
director of IDEAS and a third-year Spanish and political science student.

Last year, members of IDEAS went to Sacramento in late May to support 
Senate Bill 160, which would have provided institutionalized aid - 
financial aid that comes from schools - for undocumented students, he 
said. The bill passed in the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Ramos said members of IDEAS will most likely go to Sacramento for 
Immigrant Day in May, a day when people from many different immigrant 
rights groups lobby on behalf of immigrants.

"Also, if other immigration laws are introduced this year, we will 
probably go and lobby in Sacramento for them," he said.

Regardless of the issues, most students agree that bringing their 
political concerns outside the boundaries of the UCLA campus is a 
valuable experience.

"I lobbied my first year at UCLA," Park said. "It was an amazing 
experience. It was almost liberating to speak about issues that I 
felt really impacted me."
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