Renee Walker | The Poly Post

Cal Poly Pomona’s Undocumented Student Services addresses concerns over new Senate bill

By Renee Walker, Sept. 13, 2022

California state legislators rallied behind lowering tuition costs for undocumented students in late August as Senate Bill 1141 passed assembly and now heads to Governor Newsom’s desk.

The legislature effectively revised provisions made to California Assembly Bill 540, which dictates educational requirements undocumented students must follow to qualify for in-state tuition. SB1141 aims to ease those requirements and hardships for a smoother transition into postsecondary education.

Cal Poly Pomona’s Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education and Undocumented Student Services displayed their excitement and concerns over the recently passed piece of legislation.

“I’m glad that we are making more exceptions — lots of students are excluded from what institutions are giving, you know, education should be a right,” said Mecir Ureta Rivera, senior coordinator of Undocumented Student Services. “However, how many of these bills are we going to have in order to advocate for undocumented students, while not addressing the real issue?”

Renee Walker | The Poly Post

The primary issue being that based on current government policies, undocumented students are limited in financial options to access higher education. Financial aid, grants and work study are harder to qualify for and sometimes, are not accessible at all.

Introduced by State Senator Monique Limón, SB1141 was created to reduce educational and financial gaps undocumented students are prone to inherit. Under the current law of AB540, undocumented students are exempt from paying nonresident tuition at California State Universities and California Community Colleges if they have attended an approved California school for three or more years, or if the student acquired three or more years of credits or completed three or more years of high school course work.

SB1141 would delete the three-year requirement and opt for a two-year maximum instead. Also, due to the imposition of new duties on community college districts, with respect to determining eligibility for exemptions from paying nonresident tuition, the bill would constitute a state-mandated local program.

“One of my relatives is a Dreamer and I’ve seen them struggle to seek tuition,” said Teresa Aquino, a social justice leader at the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education. “I know that DACA helps, but since she’s considered an alien, this would really help her, especially after taking a year off.”

Cal Matters states that on average, non-residents pay out $10,000 more than their in-state counterparts and California Community College non-residents are estimated to pay $7,500 more than in-state students.

At CPP, non-residents must pay an additional $396 per unit on top of their initial payment of over $26,000 according to the California State University’s 2022-23 Undergraduate Cost of Attendance analysis.

Although SB1141 has passed, many allies are still concerned from the rise of Republican pushback against the bill.

According to a report by news publication Laist, Lassen County Republican Sen. Brian Dahle, voiced a concern about there not being money to go around at a March Education Committee hearing.

Critics say California has more than enough money to offset any extra costs—as much as $68 billion, leaving Californians to ask if the problem was financial or racial.

“The institution wasn’t made for us; it was made for white men,” said Yaritza Gonzalez, a social justice leader at the Cesar Chavez E. Center for Higher Education. “There’s a lot that needs to be done on an institutional level. You would have to deconstruct years of decisions to get to the root of their personal interest and injustice.”

The educational rights of undocumented students have sparked another conversation gearing towards the contributions immigrants have made in America

In a report by Steve Yale-Loehr, a professor of law at Cornell University, Immigrants documented and undocumented paid an estimated $328 billion in taxes and in 2015 an estimated $23.6 billion was paid within individual’s Tax Identification Numbers.

Although the Senate’s decision to pass SB1141 is a step closer to securing effective legislation for undocumented students, there is still a need to do more. Services dedicated to helping undocumented students still do not have the resources they need to actively address everyday situations.

“With the addition of this bill, we are going to need the extra manpower, funding and overall support of the campus,” said Rivera. “Undocumented students can’t live on campus and can’t access all the resources. They have to limit their college experience. One event isn’t going to change everything and only one person isn’t enough.”

Feature image courtesy of Renee Walker

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