The UC system accepts thousands of students that wish to aspire to obtain a higher education in order to further their ambitions and career goals. While some students fund their education with the aid of their families, the majority receive scholarships and grants to reach their goal. Once they complete their university career, a B.A. or B.S. is handed to them and off they go either obtain a job or continue their studies in graduate school. A simple equation to obtain a fulfilling career: high school diploma + B.A. or B.A. x scholarship = career. However, that is not the case for all students. For about 65,000 yearly high school graduates in California, going to college is but a dream; should they make it to the university, paying for college is the ultimate struggle. These students are known as undocumented students: students who do not have legal status in the United States and therefore do not qualify for federal financial aid.
One might ask: why do undocumented students come to the United States to obtain a higher education if cost is a factor? The reason for such a high influx of undocumented student stems from the parent's arrival in the United States along with the children. Thus, the majority of undocumented students are 1.5 generation immigrants in that they were born in another country, but the families immigrated to the United States and therefore where raised in the U.S. The undocumented student at times did not have a choice about coming to the United States, and while they go through the K-12 grades as any other student, once college comes up, the struggle for higher education begins. First and foremost, and issue that plagues the majority of college students is tuition. Tuition fees have increased yearly at UCI for the past 4 years, and it seems eminent that tuition cost will continue to rise. Luckily, Cal Grants and FASFA are scholarship opportunities that allow for students to fund their higher education. However, and undocumented student does not qualify for those forms of financial aid due to their legal status. So funding their tuition fees becomes and obstacle that limits undocumented students from applying to a university.
A recent bill was approved in California known as AB 540, which allows an undocumented student that meets certain criteria to attend a university or junior college and pay in state tuition rather than out of state tuition. This was a big help and step toward potential future legalization of undocumented students; however, the bill does not allow for undocumented students to qualify for state or federal financial aid. Hence, funding still becomes an issue in regards to obtaining a higher education. AB 540 is hopefully a precursor to the DREAM Act, which will allow for undocumented students to obtain financial aid and will be allowed to gain legalization after completion of college. The struggle to have the DREAM Act pass in California, and then nationally, is still at its beginning stages in that anti-immigrant sentiments thwart from such a law to pass.
The first step to promote for the DREAM Act is to raise awareness of the issue of Undocumented students. UCI organizations have attempted to bring the issue to light, most recently in a workshop presented at the Cross Cultural Center called Underground Undergrads. The workshop was presented by Angela Chen, a graduate student at UCLA, and Matias, a recently alumni of UCLA an undocumented student. They presented two short clips of a documentary that presents undocumented students speaking in regards to the struggle of not only being a college student, but also being undocumented. The book Underground Undergrads is also a compilation of stories of undocumented students and was put together by the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education. The workshop not only brought awareness of the issue to the UCI campus, but also demonstrated a key factor that will aid in the passage of the DREAM Act: undocumented students are tired of not having a voice.
The undocumented status of an individual not only limits his or her privileges in the United States, but also limits their voice in regards to issues that affect the immigrant community. Due to the status, many students are afraid to speak out for fear of being reported to INS. However, education is a fundamental human right that should not be taken away from any individual. While one might argue that a path to legalization for undocumented students rewards breaking the laws, one must consider the factors. As mentioned before, undocumented students at times did not have a say in coming to the United States, and going back to the country of origin is not an option due to lack of knowledge of that country, economic or political reasons. Undocumented students will only serve as an asset to the U.S. in that they will have a college or graduate degree that will contribute to the progress of America.