Jack Kramer photo
Connecticut Students for a Dream outside the House chamber (Jack Kramer photo)

For the fourth day in a row, members of Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D) gathered outside the House chamber behind the velvet ropes that separate lobbyists and lawmakers to urge passage of a bill that would give them access to financial aid regardless of immigration status.

The bill, S.B. 147, passed the Senate last week in a 21-13 vote.

Dressed in their caps and gowns and holding signs, the students earnestly approached lawmakers to urge them to approve the bill that would give them access to financial aid they already contribute to as part of their tuition.

The undocumented students have become a constant presence outside the House and Senate chambers, often in their caps and gowns, trying to force votes on the legislation.

“We have been here every day since last week, talking with legislators and sharing our stories,” Alison Martinez, a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, said. “Every day, more legislators commit to voting yes on S.B. 147. Yet, we are still waiting for the House leadership to follow through on their commitment and bring up the bill for a vote.”

She said they will continue to be a presence at the Capitol until the House raises the bill.

“We have marched, rallied, and organized for this bill for the past three years,” Camila Bortolleto, an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut, said. “We’ve won support from dozens of community groups, labor unions, and legislators in both parties. We deserve a vote.”

Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who supports the bill, admitted the “House is running out of time” to act. “It’s been a bit of an uphill battle to get a vote scheduled,” admitted Lemar.

He said his fellow legislators have to be convinced in a year when “immigration issues’’ have become a presidential political hot potato that voting in favor of allowing undocumented immigrant students to have access to tuition aid “won’t backfire against them down the road.’’

Lemar added, however, he’s still hopeful that a vote will be scheduled in the House before the end of the session.

In Connecticut, public colleges and universities set aside a portion of tuition revenue, $140 million, to be used as “institutional aid” to assist students with financial need. 

Undocumented immigrant students say it is unfair that they pay full tuition, contribute towards this institutional aid, yet they are not allowed to access institutional aid themselves.

The legislation, if passed, would end Connecticut’s “all-pay, no-aid” financial aid system and open institutional financial aid to all tuition paying students regardless of immigration status.

The legislation is supported by the New Haven community.

Former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. testified in support of the bill earlier this year during a public hearing.

DeStefano said it is important to note that the bill “does not include any cost to the taxpayer. That is because institutional aid comes from tuition dollars, not tax dollars.”

But not everyone agrees the legislation brings no financial baggage.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who was one of the senators who voted against the bill, said students in Connecticut are frustrated with the level of debt their incurring in order to get an education. He said the pool of financial assistance is decreased by the number of people in the pool.