It’s the fourth year in a row that Dreamers are trying to get a bill that would give them access to financial aid at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.
Last year, they were able to get the Senate to approve a similar measure, but the bill got stuck between the two chambers.
Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, who co-chairs the Higher Education Committee, said they were unable to call the bill because they didn’t think they had the support to pass it.
He said he hopes they feel an “increase moral imperative given what is happening in Washington that dictates to us that we ought to act.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said there have been a lot of misunderstandings about the bill last year. She said some people didn’t understand that the students simply wanted access to a pool of financial aid they contribute to and there were no state taxpayer dollars involved.
“I think it’s more clear exactly what the bill is doing,” Bye said.
She said there’s a lot of energy around this issue in the face of policies being implemented on a federal level with “a President of the United States who is not welcoming.”
She said the bill will get a hearing and she predicted that it will pass the committee. And even though there was Republican support for the measure last year, there’s also concerns that the only Hispanic lawmaker in the state Senate doesn’t support it.
Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, is the Republican co-chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. He was absent last year when the Senate voted on the legislation, but said he would not have supported the bill.
Linares the only Cuban American state Senator, said he appreciates the open dialogue he’s been able to have with the students but his view is that “we are a country of laws and those who are waiting for legal status should go through the process first.” If they have a problem with obtaining U.S. citizenship then they can petition the federal government, Linares said.
He expressed concern that the legislation puts Connecticut in a position where it “runs the risk of losing federal funding.”
The fiscal note for last year’s bill says the bill “does not alter the total amount provided for institutional aid. The bill does result in a potential redistribution of such aid to recipients.”
Linares said he would keep an open mind, but he’s not in favor of this legislation at the moment.
John Brady of AFT CT said this is not a handout from taxpayers. He said these Dreamers are not looking for anything special.
“This is the year their dream must become reality,” Brady added.
Gabriela Valdiglesias, a senior at Hall High School in West Hartford, who came to the U.S. from Peru, said she watches her parents struggle working many hours in order to help their children afford an education.
She said two years ago she came up with a plan to do two years of community college and then transfer to a public university. Going to community college is cheaper, but even her older siblings have struggled with similar plans and have had to take semesters off because they couldn’t afford the tuition.
Valdiglesias said she’s one of five children and she watches her parents struggle.
“My parents have never taken a vacation longer than three days because they cannot afford to stop working,” Valdiglesias said.
She said getting a higher education should not be a privilege. “This should just be a basic human right,” she added.
Julie Lee of Farmington said she didn’t even know she was undocumented until she brought the financial aid forms home in her senior year of high school.
She graduated from SUNY Purchase College in Westchester, New York with a bachelor’s degree, but she said those four years of college tuition “were the most terrifying parts of my life.”
She said her parents worked long hours in order to afford the tuition and now have health problems as a result.
“Education inequity and not having access to federal aid was killing my parents,” Lee said.
Lee, 23, is currently a music teacher in Stamford at a nonprofit organization, but still lives with her parents in Farmington and is watching them struggle with paying her sister’s college tuition.
“Breaking their backs and unable to go to hospitals that they need to to take care of themselves, to support me and my sister,” Lee said.