“When we do not allow individuals to get an education,” said Carlos Cohen, a former social studies teacher at San Marcos High School, at an event over the weekend, “we close a lot of doors on opportunities.”
Cohen has mentored many college-bound but undocumented students such as Eder G., 19, who graduated from San Marcos but then had trouble finding financial support for college because many scholarships required legal residency. But thanks to Libros Sin Fronteras (or “Books without Borders”) – a financial aid program run by PUEBLO that hosted an event on Saturday, July 27 at Santa Barbara’s Casa de la Raza – Eder is now a third-year political science and economics major at UCLA. “We’re one of the few scholarships that doesn’t require [legal residency],” explained Eder.
In California, students who are undocumented are not eligible for financial aid, often curtailing any hopes of higher education. California Assembly Bill 540, passed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1991, allows undocumented students who have earned their high school diplomas after completing at least three years at a California high school to pay in-state tuition at public institutions such as UCs and community colleges. While this makes college much more affordable, some students still need assistance. The PUEBLO Youth Committee initiated Libros Sin Fronteras to answer this call.
Last Saturday night found La Casa filled with students, supporters, and delicious food as part of the Youth Committee’s scholarship fundraiser. Students gave bilingual presentations on AB 540, as well as told stories of their own experiences as first generation college students. Thanks to the scholarship, sponsored students now attend UC Berkeley, Irvine, and Los Angeles, among other top schools.
“We can do as many fundraisers as we want,” said Juan Casillas, a professor of Spanish at Santa Barbara City College. “Ultimately, what matters is changing the law.”
One law that would improve the situation of immigrant students is the California Dream Act. The bill would make it possible for undocumented students to receive financial aid from public universities and colleges. The legislation has been passed by the State Assembly before, but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As such, California is left in limbo, because children under the age of 18 are required to attend school, but once those children graduate high school, the state no longer supports them if they are undocumented. That creates a serious problem for thousands of undocumented students, and leaves few options.
“What they want is to only educate them enough for the minimum wage,” believes Casillas. “I think there’s a contradiction there.”
To contribute to Libros Sin Fronteras, go to PUEBLO’s website.