HARTFORD, CT — It’s unlikely the House will find enough support for legislation that would give undocumented immigrant students access to financial aid at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.
“We do not have the votes for the Dreamers bill,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, admitted.
“We’re hoping in the next couple of days maybe folks will re-evaluate their position,” Aresimowicz continued. “Maybe there is some grassroot organizing to change the outcome, but right now we don’t have the votes.”
There are actually two Dreamer bills being pushed — one in the Senate and one in the House — but the Senate bill won’t be called for debate if the House doesn’t have enough support to pass it.
Earlier during the session, the Higher Education Committee and Employment Advancement Committee forwarded both bills to their respective chambers. But neither the House nor Senate has taken it up yet.
The Senate doesn’t want to raise the bill if it’s not going to pass in the House.
A group of Dreamers returned to the capitol Wednesday to lobby legislators to take up the legislation.
One of them was Camila Bortolleto, campaign manager for Connecticut Students for a Dream, who said, “We’ll keep trying.”
“We thought we had the votes last week,” Bortolleto said. “But things change. We still think there is a chance. This is a good bill for the state and that’s the message we will keep trying to get across.”
This is the fourth year in a row that the Dreamers have tried 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 House never voted on it.
Proponents call it an issue of fairness and an “injustice” that undocumented immigrant students pay into a financial aid fund that other students can draw from to pay for their education, but they can’t.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said, “granting undocumented students access to institutional aid from a fund into which they already pay is a smart investment. These talented and hardworking young adults will be a significant part of Connecticut’s economic future.”
Joseph added: “That’s why Senator (Martin) Looney has been a strong and consistent sponsor of this legislation. The Senate has already passed this legislation in two previous sessions without action in the House. It is critical that the House pass this bill before the Senate yet again runs the bill.”
At a press conference last week on the issue, Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, said an argument he hasn’t made before — a shrinking college population — is a reason to get behind the legislation this year.
“With projected declines in the college-age population for the foreseeable future, institutions of higher education in Connecticut are competing for an ever shrinking group of students,” Ojakian said. “Without the ability to offer institutional aid to undocumented students, our public institutions will be at a competitive disadvantage to our private counterparts, and will contribute to further enrollment declines.”
Ojakian said other states allow undocumented students to receive funds, including California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis has reported these measures will have no fiscal impact on the state or on the higher education system.
The proposal has the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who submitted written testimony in support of the legislation during the public hearing phase.
“Education and career preparation are some of the best tools we have to combat poverty,” Malloy and Wyman said in a joint statement. “And, access to affordable higher education is one path into the middle class for millions across our country.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.