John Phelan

Undocumented students living in Connecticut are currently unqualified for financial aid at public colleges and universities, but that may change this legislative session.

Last week, the Connecticut Senate voted 30–5 in favor of HB5031, or SB4, An Act Equalizing Access To Student-Generated Financial Aid, which would allow immigrant students access to student-generated institutional aid. The bill has bipartisan support and will now go to the state House of Representatives for a vote.

CT Students for a Dream, a youth-led organization that works to equalize opportunities for undocumented youth living in the state, mobilized in support of the bill. On the day of the vote, the organization hosted a day of action at the Capitol Building in Hartford. Attendees wore uniforms of their dream professions to symbolize the value of opportunity. The Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee presented the bill to the state Senate.

“Undocumented students who live in our state and attend our public colleges and universities should be allowed access to the financial assistance from the pool that they all pay into,” state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, the vice chair of the committee, told the News. “Connecticut Students for a Dream has been diligently advocating for this proposal for years. They have courageously told their stories and created the bipartisan bill we have today.”

According to Carolina Bortolleto, communication manager for CT Students for a Dream, the group’s work and conversations this year are a reflection of the White House’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In light of the Trump administration’s position, she said, states like Connecticut have felt obligated to take more active roles.

State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, chair of the Higher Education committee, said that since a percentage of the tuition paid by all students attending public universities in Connecticut goes into a fund for financial aid, it is unfair that some students do not have access to financial aid.

She said the committee incorporated many of the rules that would qualify students for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into the bill. The committee then negotiated the bill until it was considered broadly acceptable. Bye said CT Students for a Dream wanted to make sure that as many student as possible could access financial aid. By listening to the concerns of Republicans as well as those of DACA recipients, the committee was able to create a compromise agreed upon by all parties, Bye said.

Bortolleto said CT Students for a Dream was founded in 2010, the last time the federal DREAM Act was coming up for a vote. She said the group worked on a bill in 2012 that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. The group has since continued looking for ways to make higher education more accessible for undocumented youth and have been working on the financial aid bill since 2013.

CT Students for a Dream is optimistic about the state House vote. Bortolleto said she expects bipartisan support in the state House, even though it would be unprecedented on this issue. The organization hopes the bill will come to the state House floor this week.

Razan Sulieman | razan.sulieman@yale.edu