Student activists from the University of Connecticut are advocating for the state legislature to provide access to institutional financial aid for undocumented students.
The bill would enable anyone classified as an in-state student to receive aid from funds set aside by Connecticut public higher education institutions for tuition.
State Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, introduced House Bill 7000: An Act Equalizing Access to Student-Generated Financial Aid. The Higher Education Committee approved the bill on March 15; the legislation next needs to be passed by the House and Senate.
Also under consideration is Senate Bill 17: An Act Assisting Students Without Legal Immigration Status with the Cost of College.
Wayne Locust, UConn’s vice-president for enrollment planning and management, Wayne Locust voiced the university’s support for the legislation in testimony to the Higher Education Committee on Feb. 7.
UConn students associated with Connecticut Students for a Dream, a youth-led advocacy group for undocumented individuals, are also working to ensure the legislation’s passage.
“We do a lot of outreach in terms of getting people to come in and lobby with us. We have a very calculated way of looking at different legislators, different senators and seeing what sort of support they give to the bill,” Farzana Zubair, regional organizer for Connecticut Students for a Dream’s UConn group and eighth-semester human development and family studies major said. “We bring all our undocumented students, we bring all our supporters, into the LOB, which is the legislative office building (in Hartford), and we go talk to each legislator, and if we think we can convince them, we go try to convince them.”
As part of Connecticut Students for a Dream’s #AffordtoDream week of action in endorsement of the legislation, several students participated this year on March 15 in a “Read In” and on March 16 in a “Teach In” at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The events welcomed all students, educators and undocumented student allies.
Zubair said that on the first day, supporters visited the offices of their district’s state legislators with the testimonies of undocumented students also from their district about how these students’ lives would be impacted by this legislation.
“We make sure that it’s someone from their area so that they realize there are people in their area that care about them, that care about this bill,” Zubair said. “The second day was a teach in…it was another thing about making our presence known, so we weren’t going around to legislators this time around. We were in the middle of the Legislative Office Building and we were doing a whole educational-type seminar about the pyramid of violence.”
Renato Muguerza, community organizer with Connecticut Students for a Dream’s UConn group and eighth-semester economics major, said these week of action events were “very empowering.”
“They came on the tailwinds of a strong showing of support of allies and allies in the higher ed committee for the bill,” Muguerza said. “Folks actually came from very unexpected places to support this. People just got very, very active recently. Even people who didn’t come out for the days of action—there are lots of folks calling their legislators to push them to vote for (the legislation).”
Muguerza said Connecticut Students for a Dream’s UConn group is now “in campaign mode” for the legislation.
“For it not to pass doesn’t make sense because in-state students are more likely to stay in state after graduation and to continue to stay in the Connecticut community,” Muguerza said.
Zubair said similar legislation has historically failed to pass both the House and Senate.
“So that’s pretty much the trend that’s been happening for the past four years, that we’ve been having this bill come up,” Zubair said. “It gets through the Higher Education Committee, it gets through the House, but then once it hits Senate, there’s always a bit of an issue.”
Carolina Bortolleto, Connecticut Students for a Dream co-founder and communications and grants manager, said in an email that the legislation would affirm Connecticut’s commitment to inclusivity.
“If more undocumented students are able to pursue higher education, all fields and professions would benefit. Undocumented students want to pursue a range of careers that would benefit the state: in health care professions, teachers, engineers, community leaders, accountants,” Bortolleto said in an email. “And more than allowing undocumented students to contribute to the state, increasing access to higher education would show that Connecticut is a state that supports and welcomes the dreams of all our residents, no matter where they were born.”
One effort Connecticut Students for a Dream’s UConn group could next set its sights on is helping undocumented students go to college, Muguerza said.
“There’s a college access program run for Connecticut Students for a Dream that helps undocumented students find resources necessary to go to college and provides resources for educators on how best to serve undocumented students,” Muguerza said.
Another project for the group might relate to healthcare, Zubair said.
“In terms of larger ideas of what we want to do, after this bill is passed, because hopefully it will pass, we’ll probably go into mental health care, or even healthcare in general, health care accessibility for undocumented students on campuses throughout Connecticut,” Zubair said.
Zubair said that meanwhile, campaign organizers will keep advocating for the legislation.
“We do have our campaign organizers who are still talking to legislators, and are always there every single day, talking to legislators,” Zubair said.
Students interested in more information about Connecticut Students for a Dream’s UConn group may contact Zubair and Muguerza by email.
Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.