The Yale College Democrats are advocating for a new bill that would allow undocumented students to access public financial aid.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Roland Lemar, would require the state Office of Higher Education to amend existing policies that currently prevent undocumented students from participating in Connecticut student aid programs for public higher education. While undocumented immigrants who completed their high school education in Connecticut qualify for in-state tuition prices at public state universities, they are not eligible for state financial aid.
Last week, the Dems began collecting signatures from undergraduates to help generate support for Lemar’s bill. Already signed by 642 Yale students, the petition will be brought before the Connecticut Higher Education and Employment Committee at a hearing next Thursday. Hedy Gutfreund ’18, communications director for the Dems, said the group plans to send its president, legislative committee captains and other members to the hearing, adding that the initiative was their most successful campaign this semester. The Dems would continue advocating until the bill passes, he added.
“We’re really optimistic about this bill passing because similar bills have already been passed in other states like California,” Gutfreund said. “There are even some people who have joined the Dems just because they are interested in this specific issue.”
Meanwhile, a State Senate bill addressing a similar issue is in the early stages of the legislative process. In January, state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney proposed legislation that would assist undocumented students in funding their college tuition. Students would be eligible for the funding if declared exempt from deportation by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 immigration policy initiated by United States President Barack Obama.
Two years ago, however, state Sen. Andres Ayala proposed a similar bill that never even made it to a public hearing. And last year, a petition submitted by “Connecticut Students for a Dream” that advocated for undocumented student access to financial aid was also rejected by state officials because its stipulations were beyond their authority, a notion that C4D co-founder Carolina Bortoletto pushed back against in April.
According to Daniel Hamidi ’18, education legislative captain for the Dems, C4D is among the groups, such as the Yale Law Worker and Immigrant Advocacy Group, working with the Dems to support the bill, which he said he believes is more comprehensive than previous policy in the area.
“You can’t expect [undocumented students] to pay for college without any aid when [they may] already have financial problems,” he said, referencing the 2011 DREAM Act, which allowed undocumented students to attend state universities.
Yale Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said in an email that Yale has been providing institutional aid to undocumented students for years. But the University’s support has to be limited because these students neither receive federal aid nor take a job and must instead consider taking out student loans.
Andrea Villena ’15, who recently acquired American citizenship, said the inability of undocumented students to gain employment can be difficult because of the importance of the student contribution to the financial aid package. Additionally, Juan Carlos Cerda ’15 noted other financial challenges undocumented students face, such as applying for opportunities like study abroad programs.
“I had to fend for myself because the study abroad office didn’t know how the process worked in my case,” Carlos said. “I’ve been approached for help by a lot of other undocumented students who also want to study abroad.”
According to the College Board, there are 65,000 undocumented students in the United States.