HARTFORD, CT — The Senate tabled debate Fright night on a bill that would have given undocumented immigrant students the opportunity to apply for college financial aid.
After about two hours of discussion it was clear they didn’t have enough support to pass the measure.
A similar bill has been on the House calendar for several days, but chances of passage in that chamber are also not looking good.
Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, said they still feel like they need bipartisan support to pass the measure and were told by Republican leadership that “there was no Republican support for that bill.”
Haddad said they were close to having enough votes within the Democratic caucus, but are not there yet.
He said the loss of bipartisan support for the bill was precipitated by the arrest of one of the members of the group supporting the measure and a Republican caucus that “intervened in the interim,” and suddenly Republican lawmakers who had supported the measure were no longer in favor.
“The people who talked to me gave me a variety of reasons,” Haddad said.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the chances that the legislation will pass this year are “slim to none.”
If that’s the case, she and Haddad have vowed to raise the issue again next year.
Bye came out into the the Capitol hallway to give the Connecticut Students for a Dream organizers hugs following the decision to table the issue.
But the organizers weren’t willing to give up. They continued to remain optimistic the legislation will pass.
“It’s very close in the House,” Carolina Bortolleto said.
She said if leadership gets behind it, it could pass either chamber. She said they’ve never been as close as they are this year and they’re not giving up.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he doesn’t want to lose momentum for the issue.
Next year, however, is an election year, which will make a vote on this issue much harder.
Bye said what the students are asking for is very simple.
“They’re paying tuition. They’re asking for the benefits that come and are available to all students who pay tuition. They’re not asking for any special favors. They’re not asking for any state or federal support for their tuition,” Bye said. “They’re just asking access to a fund they pay into.”
But opponents of the legislation believe it will decrease the money available for students who are here legally.
Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbook, the first Cuban American elected to the state Senate, said the concern with the policy is Connecticut is “turning on the magnet for people to come here illegally.”
He said he has empathy for the undocumented immigrant students and values immigration. Linares’ grandfather immigrated to the United States from Cuba.
“But ultimately to me this is a matter of fairness,” Linares said.
He said he doesn’t believe “skirting federal immigration law” should be rewarded.
He said the legal immigrants understand how difficult it is to immigrate to the United States legally and express to him frustration that “illegal immigrants have access to the things that make America great without having to go through the legal process.”
Linares opined that the legislation will decrease the access legal working class Connecticut residents have to institutional aid. Because as a percentage the families of the undocumented immigrant students make less income than the legal families, they would get a larger percentage of financial aid.
“That’s not okay,” Linares said.
Bye said there is no specific formula for distribution of institutional aid.
She said many of these students don’t even realize their immigration status until they apply for college and are asked to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form requires a Social Security number and that is generally how other students apply for various forms of financial aid for college.
Undocumented immigrant students are unable to fill out the form and unable to access any aid based mostly on federal immigration laws.
Bye said these students also don’t qualify for any other grants or financial aid due to their immigration status.