Immigrants study in the shadows

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Getting through college is hard enough. Undocumented Southwestern College students also worry about being deported, even if they have lived most of their lives as Americans.

An SWC student’s hopes of living the American Dream were threatened when he found out he would not qualify for financial aid or in-state tuition fees because he is undocumented.

In October 2001 hope came when California enacted Assembly Bill AB 540, which grants state residency status to undocumented students who meet the requirements of the law.

“After graduating high school I thought that was pretty much the end of the road for me as far as education but when I found out I could go to community college I jumped at the opportunity,” said José (not his real name). “I think about undocumented people who a have their Master’s degree and their Doctorate degree. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. Education is an investment and I will finish it because it is what I set out to do.”

José said he hopes to someday become a citizen or a resident and a productive American.

AB 540 would exempt qualified students in good standing from non-resident tuition fees and protects their undocumented immigrant status. To qualify, undocumented students must have attended a California high school for at least three years, graduate or be on the path to graduating, earned a G.E.D or pass the state proficiency exam. They must also file for legal residency.

SWC Transfer Center Coordinator Jaime Salazar said he sees first-hand the struggle undocumented students go through to pursue their education.

“There are 260 AB 540 students at SWC,” said Salazar. “These students, through no fault of their own, are here because their parents brought them to seek a better life for their family.”

California residents have raised concerns about the expense of AB 540 and exempting non-residents of other states from paying out-of-state fees.

“I am hoping that at some point in time our legislators figure out that an educated population is a lot less expensive than an uneducated population,” said Salazar.

 

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