“I don’t get financial aid because I’m an illegal immigrant,” explained a Woodland Community College student who asked to remain nameless. He was smuggled into the country when he was 5 years old, and this is the only place he knows as home. He speaks, reads and writes English fluently. He says he’s an all-American, and he takes pride in this country.
He sees himself as a good citizen who pays his taxes every April but doesn’t see any of that money coming back. “I ‘m denied many programs because of my status in this country,” the student said.
No undocumented student is eligible for financial aid, but that will change if Senate bill 160, also known as “The California Dream Act” sponsored by state senator Gil Cedillo, is signed into law. The bill was passed in the legislature earlier this month and awaits a signature by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
SB 160 would allow undocumented immigrants and students who left the state but who had lived most of their lives in California access to state grants, loan programs and the Board of Governors fee waiver. The bill would coincide with an earlier law, AB 540, which allows certain students eligibility to pay in-state tuition.
To qualify, students must have attended high school in California for three or more years, graduated from a California high school or received a GED, and, if undocumented, students must sign an affidavit with the college that they will or have applied for legal status.
Among the supporters of the bill are representatives from the University of California system, California State University system and California Community Colleges.
A letter addressed to Senator Cedillo from Stephen Arditti representing the office of the President of The University of California, states, “We believe that students who have been in California for a significant period, but who are not legal residents should have accessto higher education.”
The letter further explains that SB 160 would help place these students on a more equal footing with other needy students and would enhance their access to the university.
State Senator Tom McClintok and other state lawmakers disagree with the currently proposed SB 160. They don’t believe in rewarding those who have entered the nation in defiance of our laws and sovereignty. The bill not only encourages illegal immigration, but is an insult to legal residents, according to Senator McClintok.
Other lawmakers counter that undocumented students have been in the nation most of their lives and should not be punished because their parents entered illegally. Granting immigrants easier access to a college education is of value to society as a whole.
Senator McClintok counters that all resources are finite. Giving tuition subsides or financial aid to foreign nationals illegally in this country means denying that same opportunity to legal residents.
Most Republican lawmakers believe that in-state tuition and financial aid should be only for citizens and legal residents. They wonder why these students do not apply for residency instead.
The answer is that establishing legal residency is often expensive and confusing, and it is hard to get a hearing at a federal courthouse. Even if the students get a lawyer and petition the courts for legal status, it is often difficult for petitions to be granted, and the outcome could be the deportation of students and their family.
Senator Cedillo supports this bill. “Throughout their formative years we have encouraged them to set educational goals and to dream of their success and get them ready for the work force,” he said. “Then we should not shatter their hopes by imposing restrictions that bar them from continuing their education at a college or university.”