Between her coursework and political activism, Bernarda Elizabet Garcia actively fights for immigrants' rights, especially when it comes to funding higher education. As a scholarship recipient of the Mario Savio Lecture Fund's Young Activist Award, Garcia is a powerful and influential voice in her community through her advocacy for extending federal financial aid to undocumented college students by "improving the quality of life through immigration reform and education." Though there currently are not many government policies that give financial assistance to undocumented students for higher education, there are other organizations that are dedicated to helping those students pay for a college education.
There are roughly 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, with 2.1 million potentially eligible for the most recently proposed federal DREAM Act. Only 7,000-13,000 undocumented students are enrolled in college in the United States. According to College Board, college tuition and fees for full-time students at a public four-year institution (in-state) was roughly $19,548 per year in 2015-2016. For out-of-state tuition at a public school, the cost was $34,031 and tuition at a private nonprofit cost, on average, $43,921 in the same year. Without financial aid, it is nearly impossible to afford a college education, especially when many undocumented students come from low-income households.
Though there is no federal or state law that prohibits undocumented students from being admitted or attending U.S. colleges, government policies pose a barrier, as undocumented students do not have access to federal financial aid or Pell grants. However, Georgia, along with Alabama and South Carolina, plan to implement a policy that would ban illegal students from being admitted to their colleges. Just earlier this month, Georgia's Supreme Court rejected an appeal for lowering the in-state tuition for undocumented students. According to Education Reporter Lauren Foreman, following Georgia's decision, eight students from Georgia State University were arrested after refusing to leave a protest. The DREAM Act, a bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress in 2001, failed to pass even after countless reintroductions and a big push in 2010. The goal of the act was to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented children who grew up in the US. However, all state DREAM Acts are different and are not synonymous with DACA, which is a policy that was created in 2012 by President Obama to grant deferred deportation to those under 31 years of age who came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16.
Another controversial topic is whether or not undocumented students should be eligible for lower tuition - tuition that state residents pay when attending in-state universities and colleges. Currently, the majority of schools charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition. According to the National Immigration Law Center, at least twenty states have passed tuition equity bills that allow undocumented students to pay the same tuition as their classmates, regardless of their immigration status (certain criteria must be met to qualify). Based on the laws passed by these states, there is a general consensus that the state does not "lose revenue from the number of students who would otherwise pay out-of-state tuition," but rather, "it raises the percentage of high school graduates who pursue a college degree."
Organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and TheDream.US are dedicated to helping undocumented students earn scholarships to pay for college, regardless of immigration status. Be sure to check with your current or prospective university or college to see what funding opportunities you are eligible for, if you are an undocumented student. Check out our scholarships for undocumented students and scholarships for which you qualify today to help fund your college education.
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