Denied Tuition Assistance, Undocumented Students in New York Call for Equal Treatment


I was 18 the day I found out I didn’t qualify for financial aid. It was a hot, sunny day in early May 2009. I walked into the financial aid office at the college I had just been admitted to with a mustard-colored envelope filled with school transcripts and awards. My plan was to convince the administrator to provide financial assistance to the graduating senior standing in front of her. Of course, things don’t always go as planned.

I was taught a valuable lesson that day, not just by the administrator, but by my mother as well. After being accused of wasting the time and energy of a very busy person who could only help those with proper documentation, I sat in a nearby park and cried. The sound of my short breaths and of my tears dropping onto the summer flowers reached my mom’s heart back home; she called me with the gut feeling that something was wrong. I felt as if I was the weakest person on Earth. While my mother overcame so many obstacles for a better life, I crumbled like a wet cookie at the first one. Her everlasting support and positive attitude pulled me back up and coated me with the armor I would need to face my undocumented life post-graduation. Her words will forever be etched on my heart: “Even if I have to recycle bottles, we are going to get you into college.”

Although I was able to attend my first semester of college with the help of a New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) fellowship, many youth cannot attend at all. Each semester is an uncertain mess, and my attendance becomes a question of how much money is available, not grades and potential. Then there’s a tuition hike, a scholarship I once qualified for is cut from a budget, or I simply cannot obtain a job before my tuition payment is due, and it’s back to square one. Not qualifying for financial aid, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and most scholarships, makes completing college an obstacle course very few have the privilege of finishing. This ongoing cycle has stalled the potential of many undocumented New York youth who anxiously wait for the chance of obtaining a higher education.

20120605-collegeA March rally in Albany for immigrant rights (Credit: Ted Hesson)

The New York Dream Act would provide immediate relief to the state’s undocumented youth pursuing a college education by opening the Tuition Assistance Program to all, regardless of immigration status. The 2012 legislative session is slowly coming to an end, but I’m still hopeful that Governor Cuomo will step up and support this small relief by actively advocating for it.

The weeks to come are an uphill battle in the state of New York, which has been a welcoming port for immigrants for years. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to state his frustration with the federal government’s inability to integrate talented immigrants into the economy, but instead, driving them away. The United States is falling behind other countries by not fully welcoming immigrants into it’s labor force, communities, and, most importantly, schools.

The country’s inability to change the broken immigration system has mobilized advocates to create change at a state level, which is why the NYSYLC has spearheaded this campaign since the bill’s introduction. While we continue to hear about legislative change at the federal level—Durbin’s Dream Act or Rubio’s Dream Act alternative—undocumented youth are not going to wait anymore. While there continues to be inequality and exclusivity within the distribution of financial aid, there will be youth fighting to access it. While there are undocumented and immigrant youth willing to go to college, there will continue to be a push for change. The ask is loud and clear: Pass the New York Dream Act.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.