Friday, June 23, 2006

Hey, wait a minute

Illegal immigrant students lobby for chance at financial aid

Ummm, if they're here illegally, why haven't the Feds already descended upon their homes or schools and begun deportation proceedings?

Just askin', is all. Here's the article:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Like generations of citizens before them, California State University, Chico, students Alba Miranda, Hector Najera and Rene Ochoa descended on the Capitol on Monday to petition members of the Legislature.

Except the three honor students aren't citizens -- they're illegal immigrants, who under state law have a legal right to in-state tuition at California's colleges and universities, but are not eligible for financial aid.

Dozens of students like them from across California came to Sacramento to urge legislators to support a measure -- Senate Bill 160 by Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles -- that would allow them to apply for such assistance.

"This legislation would just allow us to be able to fill out applications and compete for a scholarship," Ochoa said.

The measure has cleared the Senate and is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Cedillo predicts it will land on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk later this summer, as immigration heats up as an election year issue.

Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Schwarzenegger supports the law that allows illegal immigrants who attended a California high school for three years and received a diploma to pay in-state tuition.

"He hasn't taken a position on (SB 160) because he hasn't seen it and it could change before it reaches his desk," Thompson said.

California is one of 10 states to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition. But Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, and other state lawmakers have introduced bills to repeal the 3-year-old law.

"I just don't believe in rewarding those who have entered our nation in defiance of our laws and sovereignty," McClintock said. "That not only encourages illegal immigration, it's an insult to the millions of legal residents who obeyed our laws."

McClintock disagrees with the governor's support of the in-state tuition law.

"All resources are finite," McClintock said. "Giving tuition subsidies or financial aid to foreign nationals, illegally in this country, means denying that same opportunity to legal residents."

But Democrats counter that these students have spent most of their lives in the United States, and should not be punished because their parents entered illegally.

"We invest in their K-12 education, and do so because we believe that all children should be educated so that we can prepare them for the work force," Cedillo said. "Why would we then hinder them when they're admitted to our colleges and universities?"

SB 160 would require the California community college and California state university systems -- and request the University of California system -- to allow these students to apply and compete for all student aid programs.

Most of the eligible students come from low-income families, Cedillo said. Supporters say that because they are not eligible for aid many high-performing students have not been able to attend college, or have had to drop out.

During the first 2 1/2 years of the legislation, about 18,000 community college students qualified for in-state tuition under the new law.

University of California records show that about 430 undocumented immigrants who graduated from a high school in the state qualified for in-state tuition in 2004-05. The California State University system does keep tally.

Many of these youngsters, Cedillo said, are honor students who "have overcome the greatest challenges and yet perform at the highest levels."

The three Chico State students who spent Monday urging legislators to support the measure fit that profile.

They arrived in the United States from Mexico with their parents who worked as farmworkers. Najera said his mother fled with her three children after his father was murdered, fearing they would be next.

"I've worked very hard," said Najera, adding that financial aid would ease the hardship on his family. "I want to be a productive member of society, but in order to do so, I need to finish my education."

All three students said they worked in the fields with their parents, learned a new language, graduated from high school with A-averages and have been honor students in college.

Because she is not eligible for financial aid, Miranda said she has had to juggle jobs and not been able to concentrate on her studies.

"I can see this from the other side of this issue," she said. "But by helping us, you're helping us contribute to the country."

There are so many problems with this, it's hard to know where to start.

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