Colorado Considers In-State Tuition For Undocumented College Students

For the seventh consecutive year, activists are fighting for passage of legislation that would provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students attending Colorado’s public colleges and universities.

Much like the long-debated federal Dream Act, the measure has repeatedly failed. But this year, Democrats are hopeful that the legislation, dubbed ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow) will finally pass, since the party now controls both the House and Senate. Supporters of the bill held a press conference Tuesday, announcing its introduction in the state Senate. Students, educators and elected officials attended the event. Supporters include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

If ASSET passed, Colorado would join other states providing in-state rates to immigrants, including Texas and California. In November, voters approved a Maryland ‘Dream Act’ law. The bill would provide in-state tuition to students who attended  high school in the state for at least three years before graduating or earning a GED. The proposal does not include providing state financial aid.

Last June, the board of trustees of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, a public institution, decided to establish a non-resident, Colorado graduate tuition rate last year benefiting undocumented immigrants. The university’s decision was controversial, and even spurred critics to accuse leaders of defying state law. The Denver Post reported that 237 students enrolled under the new rate last fall.

Related Links:

“ASSET backers upbeat, confident.” EdNews Colorado.

“ASSET Bill is Reintroduced in Colorado Senate to Give In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students.” The Huffington Post.  

– “Supporters of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants hope 7th time is the charm.” The Denver Post.

– “A College Lifts a Hurdle for Illegal Immigrants.” The New York Times.

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$1 Million Gift to Fund Scholarships for Undocumented College Students

Many elite colleges and universities quietly are providing financial assistance to undocumented immigrant students.

But perhaps the highest profile announcement of support for such students to date came this week, when the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it had received $1 million specifically intended to support scholarships for undocumented students. University officials believe it is the largest such gift of its kind to take place at an American higher education institution.

The awards will begin in 2013.

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation is funding the gift, saying that it will “level the playing field” for such students. Such students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, federal loans or work-study jobs.

Many states, including California offer in state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But they still struggle to pay tuition, as they do not qualify for federal financial aid. Private scholarships and in some cases state aid — such as in California –are filling the gaps. The California Dream Act of 2011 allows students to apply for and receive non-state funded private scholarships to attend public universities and also allows them to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid.

“Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential,” fund president Ira S. Hischfield said in an announcement.

The university estimates that the average family income for undocumented students attending the university is $24,000. In addition, about 200 students from 20 countries are currently eligible for assistance.

A news release from the university highlighted some of the students who will benefit and the importance of such an announcement.

“Against great odds, our ‘Dreamers’ have persevered to be here at Berkeley — adding so much to this campus,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, in the release. “We are grateful for the courage of these ‘Dreamers’ and also for the courage of those who stepped forward to support them.”

The university already has an undocumented student program coordinator who works with such students. The university is also focusing on addressing other issues faced by such students, ranging from mental health resources to legal services.

In making the announcement, the university also highlighted some of the undocumented students, including the story of Uriel Rivera. He dropped out of the university because he could not afford the tuition. According to the university, he plans to return to school next semester because of new assistance provided through the state’s “Dream Act.”

Jesus Chavez shared with National Public Radio how difficult it is to afford Berkeley as an undocumented student.

“The thing about undocumented students is that if you don’t have the money, then you get registration blocks, and then you can’t add classes for the next semester or you have to drop out,” he told NPR. “So you’re constantly hustling, and it’s nonstop.”

In your communities, are universities finding ways to make college affordable for undocumented students? Are they using foundation funds to award scholarships to undocumented students? Are such students receiving such support in the way of state aid?

Related Links:

– “Nation’s single largest gift for scholarships to undocumented students announced.” UC Berkeley News Center.

– “Berkeley receives $1M for Undocumented Students.” National Public Radio.

– “Grant to aid UC Berkeley’s undocumented students.” The Los Angeles Times.

– “Leveling the Playing Field for Undocumented Students.” Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

Voters Approve Maryland Dream Act

Undocumented immigrant students celebrated a big victory on Tuesday night, as voters approved the Maryland Dream Act.

The law will allow some students brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was celebrating along with students at a watch party at Arcos Mexican Restaurant in Fells Point.

“This is going to be a tremendous affirmation of the goodness of the people of the state,” the governor told the crowd.

Known as “Question 4,” the act was approved by a comfortable margin.

However, it differs from other states in that students must first attend community college at the in-state rate and then transfer to universities to receive the in-state benefit there. Other states with similar legislation don’t require students to attend community colleges to receive the benefit. The law  should not be confused with the proposed federal Dream Act, which would provide a path to legal status and citizenship to undocumented college students.

While there are other states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, Maryland is the first state where voters –rather than just legislators–approved  such an initiative. The Maryland General Assembly approved the act last year, but it went to a vote because Republicans successfully petitioned to put the law on hold and place it on the ballot.

Both immigration and education were top issues for Latino voters heading into the election. Javier Mercado, 42, told The Washington Post that he supported the Dream Act legislation.

“It is another opportunity for the students that want to better themselves,” he said. “We can’t deny them an education.”

The Post noted that in-state tuition is $7,175 a year at the University of Maryland in College Park and out-of-state tuition is $25,554. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh supported passage of the law.

Students were also paying careful attention to the ballot initative, as the outcome could have a significant impact on their college aspirations and goals.

“This means so much to me, my parents and my family–who are the other dreamers,” high school senior Nathaly Uribe, who moved to the United States from Chile when she was just two years old, told The Baltimore Sun as she watched the election coverage. “This will give all of us a chance.”

Related Links:

– “Md. voters approve ‘Dream Act’ law.” The Washington Post.

– “Students celebrate approval of Maryland Dream Act.” The Baltimore Sun. 

– “Maryland Voters Approve In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students.” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week. 

– “Maryland Dream Act will benefit state, study says.” Maryland Politics – The Washington Post.

Washington State Legislators Want Financial Aid for Undocumented College Students

Washington State provides undocumented immigrant college students in-state tuition, and now some state lawmakers are pushing to provide more financial assistance to undocumented students.

The Seattles Times reports that Wash. State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said in a statement that he plans to push for state-funded financial aid for undocumented immigrants.  California, New Mexico and Texas make state aid available to undocumented college students. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid.

“I feel so strongly about the justice and need for this that I plan to make passage one of my top legislative priorities in 2013,” Murray said in the statement.

The proposal could be a tough sell amidst a tough economy. And the  newspaper reports that about 32,000 students eligible for Washington’s State Need Grants are not receiving assistance because there’s not enough money.

Related Links:

– “Legislators to seek state aid for undocumented students.” The Seattle Times.

– “College Board releases resource guide for undocumented immigrant students.” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Students in Texas Illegally are Eligible for State Aid.” The Texas Tribune.

– “Jerry Brown signs California Dream Act.” The Los Angeles Times.

D.C. Afterschool Programs Asking Immigration Status of Students

The Washington, D.C., public schools began asking the immigration status of children applying to participate in afterschool programs for the first time this year, raising some concerns among members of the Latino community.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported reported that the school system apparently inadvertently issued a news release in error about the sensitive issue that seemed to indicate the practice would no longer continue. The Washington Times reported that the incorrect release quoted D.C. Office of Latino Affairs director Roxana Olivas as saying that asking children’s immigration status discriminated against families, eroded trust with parents and discouraged participation of parents in the program.

But school officials later retracted that release and issued a new release saying they will continue to ask status because of federal requirements tied to a $6.8 million grant the district received supporting the programs. District officials pointed out that federal funds cannot be used toward illegal immigrants, even though they are allowed to attend public schools.

However, they also said the district would use other funds to allow undocumented children to participate in the programs.

“While DCPS does receive HHS funding, it uses other funds to ensure all children can participate in afterschool programming,” the release noted. “DCPS has said that it has no intention of turning students or families away for afterschool programs or services. Parents who do not submit the citizenship documentation will still be permitted to enroll their children in afterschool programs.”

The dueling press releases clearly illustrate that asking children’s status can be a sensitive and controversial issue.

The Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed undocumented children to attend public K-12 schools. Recent attempts by legislators to ask children’s status and track the numbers of undocumented students in U.S. schools have stirred up controversies in several states. They’ve also caused civil rights groups to say that such actions discourage children from enrolling in school.

This incident in the District raises an interesting issue. In many communities, non-profit groups partner with schools to provide services and federal funds are used to help children in programs that extend beyond school hours. Have you heard of children being asked their status by groups, or even told they cannot participate in a program because they are undocumented? Does this practice discourage children from participating in these activities?

Related Links:

– “OSSE statement on citizenship requirements for HHS funded afterschool programs.” Office of the State Superintendent of Education. 

– “D.C. after-school programs get caught up in immigration politics.” The Washington Post.

– “D.C. clarifies error on after-school programs.” Washington Times.

‘National Dream University’ to Serve Undocumented Students

The new California-based “National Dream University” program will offer undocumented immigrant students the ability to study online for a labor studies certificate while awaiting passage of the Dream Act.

The one-year program is being offered by the University of California,Los Angeles, Center for Labor Research and Education and the National Labor College. It will launch in January 2013 and will cost $2,490.

While some states offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, the majority do not and the high cost of a college education deters many young people from pursuing higher education.

UCLA labor center director Kent Wong told Inside Higher Ed that he hopes academics at other universities will pursue similar initiatives. “I hope that this will encourage other faculty to get involved in ways to pressure their states and pressure the federal government to make changes so that these young people can receive the access to higher education which they need and which they deserve,” he said.

On a similar note, after Georgia banned undocumented students from attending some state institutions,  University of Georgia faculty members created Freedom University. The non-credit courses are offered for free to undocumented students.

It’s certainly a well-intentioned effort. But do you think these certificates will be that helpful to these students?

Related Links:

– National Dream University

– “Undocumented, But Not Uneducated.” Inside Higher Ed. 

– “DREAM Act College: UCLA professors create National Dream University, online school for undocumented students. The Huffington Post. 

– Freedom University.

– “Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students.” The College Board. 

President Obama Marks Plyler v. Doe Anniversary with Key Immigration Announcement

President Obama’s announcement today that the United States will stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants  brought into the country as children comes on a significant date in history absent from many textbooks and unknown to many Americans.

Perhaps not even the young people affected by the administration’s policy change know about it. And the president did not mention it in his speech. The historic Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision, which affirmed undocumented immigrant children’s right to a free public education, marks its 30th anniversary today.

Obama’s decree stops short of the DREAM Act, and is just a temporary measure. To qualify, young people must be 30 or younger, must have been in the U.S. at least five years and must have arrived before they were 16. They must be currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also cannot have a criminal record.

It defers deportation for two years and allows them to get work visas, but does not provide a path to citizenship. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that up to 1.4 million people could benefit from the policy.

“This is the right thing to do,” the president said.

But how did the United States come to be in this position?  There are so many thousands of young people affected because of the still-controversial Plyler decision.

The narrowly decided 5-4 decision made on June 15, 1982,  arose from a  civil rights lawsuit filed in Tyler, Texas. It doesn’t carry the broad name recognition of Brown v. Board of Education. And yet, it is a decision that affects more children today than at the time it was decided.

I was working for The Dallas Morning News when I traveled to Tyler on the case’s 25th anniversary to meet with some of those who were involved in the case. While there, I recorded a series of video interviews and eventually wrote an article about the case.

In 1975, Texas began allowing districts to charge tuition to undocumented immigrant children or to bar them from school.  In 1977, a number of poor Mexican families attempted to enroll their children in Tyler schools. Because they were undocumented immigrants, they were told they would need to pay $1,000 per child, which they could not afford to pay.

Catholic lay worker  Michael McAndrew noticed they were out of school and brought the case to the attention of a local attorney and then the  Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Four families filed suit against the school district and Jim Plyler, the schools superintendent. Texas U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ruled in favor of the families, and the case went on to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, I visited the humble home of Jose and Lidia Lopez,  one of the couples who challenged the Tyler school district in court. Their children later went on to graduate high school and remain in Tyler, where they are raising their own children.

“School is very important for all children, and they should not be discriminated against because they are Mexican or white or black,” Mr. Lopez said. “They should be equal.”

When I visited Jim Plyler, he said he had changed his mind and supported the decision.

Texas U.S. District Court Judge William Wayne Justice–who decided the case in favor of the children before it was sent to the higher court–told me that it was the most important decision of his lengthy career. Judge Justice has since passed away, but felt confident of his decision until his death at 89.

“I don’t know how many [children] got an education as a result of it, I can speculate it might have been more than a million,” Judge Justice told me. “Without that education they would have been a burden on the rest of us….When Texas educates these children, whether Mexican-American children or children of illegal immigrants we’re giving ourselves a break financially.”

In the Supreme Court’s majority opinion Justice William Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, wrote: “It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime.”

Related Links:

– “U.S. to stop deporting some illegal immigrants.” The New York Times. 

– “Secretary Napolitano Announces Deferred Action Process for Young People who are low enforcement Priorities.” Department of Homeland Security.

– Plyler v. Doe: 25 Years Later.” Video interviews with case participants. 

– “25 years ago, Tyler case opened schools to illegal immigrants.” The Dallas Morning News. 

– “Triumphs and Challenges on the 30th Anniversary of Plyler V. Doe.” Center for American Progress. 

– “School is for Everyone: Celebrating Plyler v. Doe. (ACLU) ” The Huffington Post.

– “Supreme Court Immigration Ruling Resonates 30 Years Later.” The School Law Blog. Education Week.

Last-Minute Reprieve Saves Virginia High School Graduate from Deportation

Heydi Mejia, 18, is a good student who also happens to be an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She graduated from Meadowbrook High School in Virginia on Friday, just days before she was scheduled for deportation.

Similar stories have made headlines recently, and public outpourings of support led to some of those students being able to stay in the United States. But was Mejia’s story “good enough” in the eyes of politicians  and the public to earn a reprieve?

“What happens when you’re ranked No. 22 at a suburban high school outside Richmond, where politicians haven’t responded to your calls and school officials aren’t sure whether to spell your name Heydi or Heidi?” The Washington Post asked in a story on Monday.

Mejia was a member of the National Honor Society, and her teachers and principals wrote letters of support for her to submit to immigration officials. She also submitted SAT scores and school transcripts. But she was still rejected by the Department of Homeland Security before she graduated and ordered deported. “For me, this week feels more like a dead end,” Mejia said about commencement activities.

But once the story was published on the front page of the Post on Monday, she got the answer she wanted from immigration officials that same day. The Department of Homeland Security granted her a one-year reprieve. She  now plans to enroll in college.

“It has been an overwhelming week, for sure,” she told the Post. “I’ve had every emotion, and now I just feel so relieved and so lucky.”

Undocumented immigrant students graduating near or at the top of their high school classes make for the most dramatic stories, and seem to have the best chance of winning public support. Media coverage also seems to play a major role, as evidenced by the decision about Heydi coming the same day that the story was published by one of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Another example is Daniela Pelaez, who just graduated as valedictorian of North Miami Senior High School and is headed to Dartmouth College. Public and political support, coupled with media coverage, earned her a reprieve. But what about all those students who are not lucky enough to be featured in major media coverage? Or those who may just be “B” or “C” students who still plan on going to college, albeit community college, the higher education pathway that most young Latinos choose?

It’s important to reflect on the fact that there are many kids facing this situation across the country, and the impact of media makes a difference for just a few. That’s despite the fact that President Obama told officials last year to be more lenient on such students and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.

Education Week recently reported that the Latino high school graduation rate stood at just 63 percent in 2009. Schools are battling to create success stories for Hispanic students, only to watch some of them shipped away.

Passage of the Dream Act–which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant students who pursue a college degree–could lead to more students graduating high school with stories like Heidi’s. How many of their stories go untold? See if you can find one in the school district you cover, and especially consider writing about that student who may not be valedictorian on salutatorian, but is still a good kid.

Related Links:

– “Virginia teen Heydi Mejia is granted reprieve from deportation.” The Washington Post.

– “Virginia student graduates from high school, braces for deportation.” The Washington Post.

– “Valedictorian with immigration woes wins cheers with her diploma.” CBS Miami. 

– “Elizabeth Olivas returns to Indiana for graduation after weeks stuck in Mexico.” Indianapolis Star.