Are immigrants finally California dreamin’ their way into college?

Illustration by Jonathan Horcasitas.

Imagine that you immigrated to California when you were ten years old. You have attended California schools, taken all of the same classes and teachers as any other US citizen.  You are the top of your class and getting ready to apply for college…when you come to a disturbing halt. You can’t apply for college. Why? Well, there is absolutely no way that you or your family can afford it, and you don’t qualify for financial aid because you aren’t an US citizen.

Now, visualize the heart-break and frustration that these hard-working students must feel who can’t improve their future because they can’t go to college. Society today has taught us that a college education, more importantly a college degree, will ensure a bright and stable future. However, what happens to the immigrants who work hard in high school and are stopped short of their dreams and future?

To put it simply, nothing happens. Thousands of immigrant students don’t go farther than high school, and cannot overcome the socio-economic barriers without a college education.

It is a known fact that college is difficult. It is difficult to get accepted, difficult to graduate, and most importantly, difficult to afford.  As a result of the recession and growing debt, college has gotten even more impossible to get into – especially in California.

As a transfer student, I have experienced the overflowing classrooms and tuition hikes at my community college in Sacramento. Luckily, I spent countless days and hours ensuring that I took all of the necessary steps to make it to the university of my dreams. But, I couldn’t have accomplished this without the help of financial aid.  As a result of the financial aid I received, primarily grants, it helped me to accomplish my goals and pursue a higher education. Therefore, it brings me to the question: what source of aid do immigrants receive? The answer is: nothing, nada, zip.

However, October 8th, 2011 marked a pivotal moment in history for immigrant students in California. The California Dream Act has been a hot topic since July 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown originally signed the first half of the bill. Now that Gov. Brown has signed the second component of the California Dream Act, the future of immigrant students will be changing dramatically in the coming years.

According to the Los Angeles Times, illegal immigrants that are accepted by state universities will now be eligible to receive financial aid through Cal-Grants. Additionally, students attending the colleges in California will be eligible for grants and fee waivers. However, this act is not set to go in effect until 2013.

Although the California Dream Act appears to be a wonderful program for the improvement of immigrant students, there are many opposed to it.  There is a belief that this act will attract even more people to immigrate here for an education.  In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly stated, “We have just created a new entitlement that is going to cause tens of thousands of people to come here illegally from all over the world.”

The Los Angeles Times states that according to Gov. Brown, an anticipated amount of 2,500 students will be eligible for Cal-Grants. Therefore, only increasing Cal-Grant funds to 14.5 million, which is only about one percent overall of Cal-Grant funds.

In my opinion, this program will benefit California greatly because the top students in California (even if they are immigrants) will be contributing to our society by getting a well deserved education. However, my only question is: what is going to happen to the current immigrant students that are still ineligible for aid for another two years?

It appears that this question has not yet been answered, and it can only be assumed that current students will either have to pay out of pocket for their education, or wait until the California Dream Act has been executed completely so that they too can receive financial aid.

Although the California Dream Act marks a great moment in history for immigrants, it is still not time for grand celebration. The current immigrant students in California are still dealing with the nightmare of being able to afford college, and until 2013, they must patiently wait so they too can be eligible for all of benefits of a US citizen. So, can this act really be a “dream come true,” or is it really just a “dream come 2013?”

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