They Have Come This Far

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Myself outside the hearing room with C4D activist and student Alison.
 Outside the hearing room with C4D activist and student Alison

As political candidates argue over the role and rights of undocumented immigrants, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee heard public testimony on SB 147 AN ACT ASSISTING STUDENTS WITHOUT LEGAL IMMIGRATION STATUS WITH THE COST OF COLLEGE.  The bill is sponsored by Representative Haddad, a member of the Higher Education Committee and Senate President Martin Looney.

The bill proposed would further the mission of a recent statute that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students that attended at least two years of high school in Connecticut. This bill would further the assistance it gives to undocumented students acknowledging that many undocumented students cannot afford the in-state prices and need institutional aide. Many students came from Connecticut Students for a Dream testified to the burden of college tuition and the need for resources available to all other in-state students. Students spoke to the limitations they face when deciding to go to college because of the lack of resources available to undocumented students.

The Executive Director of LPRAC, Werner Oyandel, made a moral argument backed with an argument to address the common opposition of spending tax-payer dollars on undocumented students. Oyandel’s testimony identified that the institutional aide is revenue f

Executive Director of LPRAC, Werner Oyanadel, testifies on behalf of S.B 147

rom the college and not covered by taxes. He argued that all students contribute and that undocumented students should have the ability to access the necessary resources to attend college.

Senator Looney, the Senate President and sponsor of the bill, testified and made similar arguments to Oyandel. Looney called the bill in his testimony, “compassionate fair and pragmatic” as well as economic “CT invested in K12 and nurtured educated and it makes no sense to cut off now, when we know students need higher education beyond high school.” Looney emphasized the economic argument and Higher Education Chair Representative Willis agreed by mentioning a recent study saying that “States going to move ahead in economic policy are states that have welcoming policies.”

With the senate president and the leadership backing this bill, it should be a bill destine to pass in both the house and senate. Even major stakeholders such as UCONN, support the bill and provided written testimony open to financial aid being made available to undocumented students. Why did it not pass when previous legislation was proposed last year? I asked a group of students around me, all in frustration openly shared that budget hold ups prevented the bill from going to the House floor, even though it had passed in the Senate. So what is next for a bill that has support and no clear vocal opposition?

The bill will need to make it out of committee and then passed in both the House and Senate. For students both in high school and college, it must be done now. Dozens of students both undocumented and documented came in support of a bill that would allow undocumented students, many of which have lived in Connecticut almost their entire lives, to have the financial opportunity to seek higher education. One student left the meeting with a message that is often told too many times by undocumented students. Joseline came to America with her parents when she was less than a year old and as she grew up was faced with the looming implications of being an undocumented student. Joseline is now in college, but understands that she is lucky to have the financial opportunities that many of her peers and fellow activists do not have.

Like most education reforms, here lies another of students and families looking for a seat at the table and power to have the same opportunities as other students living in Connecticut. As partisan politics paint citizens like Joseline as an illegal or undocumented, legislators in Connecticut are looking change the narrative and create financial opportunities for students that have the ability to go to college, but need financial assistance. Undocumented students have come this far in many ways. They have gotten through high school graduations, granted in-state tuition, the next step is institutional financial aid. Undocumented activists and advocates have made the argument and now will wait for the political game to unfold to see if S.B 147 will pass or die in a holding pattern like last year.