California Assemblymember and 2016 congressional candidate Katcho Achadjian spoke with students at Santa Barbara Hillel in Isla Vista Tuesday night and fielded tough questions on the rising cost of college tuition and its effects on undocumented students.
Achadjian is an immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1971 for higher education. He went to Cuesta Community College and graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He worked at a gas station to put himself through school.
Third-year UCSB student and Collegiate Senator Stevan Abdalmalik revealed that Achadjian had voted in January 2011 against a bill allowing undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition. Despite the bill’s passage, Abdalmalik asked the assemblymember how as an immigrant himself he could, “look an undocumented student in the eye” and tell them he was willing to deny in-state tuition to such students, ultimately making it impossible for them to attend a UC.
“I worked for 80 cents an hour to put myself through college. So, if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Achadjian responded. “What creates more aggressive attitudes towards immigrants who are undocumented are all the freebies that we give.” He said these freebies always cost someone money.
Achadjian made the claim that undocumented students should be making every effort to become documented. “There are many user-friendly ways to become U.S. citizens,” Achadjian said. “The longer you stay undocumented it’s going to come back and haunt you someday, because let’s say you got higher education — you got your bachelor’s degree — you got your master’s degree, who is going to give you a job if you’re not documented?”
Abdalmalik asked a second question about college education, but this time focused on financial cuts to state funding in the UC system made during the assemblymember’s tenure. Abadalmalik claimed that state funding was cut from six to three percent, while funding for incarceration, specifically for drug-related offenses, has increased from about eight percent to about 11 percent. “I can absolutely see a correlation between the prioritization of the different funding systems,” Abdalmalik said. Achadjian commented that five years ago almost all departments got a cut in the state’s budget. “When we have the money, we are paying attention to education,” he said.
These questions about college tuition and funding come amid a nationwide call for free tuition by students. On November 12, students from 116 colleges and universities took part in the #MillionStudentMarch, a day of action when students demanded tuition-free public college, the cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.
Achadjian is the second congressional candidate to appear at Santa Barbara Hillel as part of the nonprofit’s “Meet the Candidate Kosher Cookout Series,” intended to foster civic engagement among college-aged voters. Santa Barbara Hillel, a student life organization associated with the global Jewish campus organization Hillel International, doesn’t support or endorse any one candidate or political party.