Dream Act: Paving the way to higher education

Illegal immigrants learn how college can be more affordable
2012-10-28T00:15:00Z 2012-10-28T00:42:57Z Dream Act: Paving the way to higher educationBy Lauren Foreman / Staff Writer / lforeman@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

A conference at Hancock College on Saturday spelled out the application process for the California Dream Act, which will help lessen college costs for qualifying children of illegal immigrants.

Presenters told attendees how individual California schools would process Dream Act applications in the Steps to College California Dream Act conference from 9 a.m. to noon in the Marian Theatre.

To qualify for financial help under the Dream Act, students must graduate from a California high school, must have completed three or four years in that California high school, and they must agree to apply for permanent citizenship when possible, said Diana Pérez, director of Central Coast California Student Opportunity and Access Program, or Cal-SOAP.

The Dream Act actually is two laws, Assembly Bill 130 and AB 131. They followed AB 540 which was passed in 2001 and outlined when an illegal immigrant would qualify to pay in-state tuition for California State University and state community colleges.

Perez encouraged interested students to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as well as Dream Act funding.

The window to apply opens Jan. 1, and closes March 2.

“It’s important because undocumented students who meet AB540 requirements, they can’t work. Usually they don’t have the money, so it closes a lot of doors for them in terms of accessing education even if they’re great students,” Pérez said.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Dream Act in July 2011. The law allows illegal immigrants to receive scholarships and state-funded financial aid to California public colleges and universities. State-funded financial aid includes institutional grants, community college fee waivers, Cal Grant and Chafee Grant.

“What Governor Brown has done is offered an opportunity for the students who have the desire to succeed and are typically good students,” Pérez said. “It’s opening that door for them to get an education and then be able to contribute to our state and to our country.”

Pérez said it is important that people understand the differences between the California Dream Act's application process and that of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented children to apply for work permits and acquire citizenship.

Israel Ramirez, a Hancock student majoring in English, said his family illegally migrated to America about 10 years ago. His parents, Alejandra and Eliseo Ramirez, worked in the fields for sparse earnings.

“It barely affords what you eat,” he said. “It’s not like you get to save up and have a luxurious life.”

Ramirez said his parents had to figure out other options.

“All I see is that light across the desert. Just cross it,” he said. “That’s the only hope for us, for my parents.”

Born in Tecate but registered in Oaxaca, Mexico, Ramirez came to America with his family when he was about 9 years old. He and his parents worked in local strawberry fields and earned much more money than they did doing field work in Mexico.

Ramirez attended Bonita Elementary School and quickly learned English to pass the fourth grade.

“They say that the kids that are undocumented, they stay in the shadows,” he said. “But I don’t see it that way,”

Ramirez said he did not struggle to blend in with other students. He encourages other students to continue their education even if they have to work and save little by little.

“We come here because every human has goals,” Ramirez said.

He hopes to become an English professor and attain dual citizenship in America and Mexico. His parents plan to earn enough money to build a home in Mexico. They are in the process of having that home built.

“When they get there, they’ll have somewhere to live,” Ramirez said. “I mean, they don’t ask for much. They just want a house.”

Beginning Feb. 5, Central Coast Cal-SOAP will launch Free Cash for College workshops assisting attendees with both FAFSA and Dream Act applications. For more information, contact Central Coast CAL-SOAP at www.centralcoastcalsoap.com or 922-6966, ext. 3710.

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