State officials encourage undocumented students to apply for Dream Act

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Facing a new national political climate, California education leaders are now urging the state’s undocumented students to apply for the California Dream Act, a financial aid program that provides scholarships for undocumented students attending state universities, which is seeing a significant decrease in application numbers.

With the March 2 application deadline approaching quickly, state officials and education leaders gathered Wednesday in an effort to boost enrollment by placating undocumented families’ fears that personal information would be released to the federal government. State Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, hoped to address the confusion and fear felt by many, according to his spokesperson Esha Mathew.

“(Medina) thought it was important to address the difference between DACA and the (Dream Act),” Mathew said.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protects eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States as children from deportation. The program does not grant a path to permanent residency or citizenship but does offer undocumented immigrants protection from deportation and a work permit for two years, after which it must be renewed.

“California’s (Dream Act) program is a state program — it’s different from DACA. The student aid commission does not share the information they collect from students,” Mathew said.

The California Student Aid Commission, or CSAC, which funds the Dream Act grants, requires undocumented students to qualify for the AB 540 nonresident tuition exemption. To receive an AB 540, students must have attended a California high school for at least three full years and have graduated from a California high school.

This is the first year that there has been a decrease in applications. Up until now, the number of applications had increased steadily, according to CSAC spokesperson Patti Colston.

“There is no empirical evidence, but we do feel that some of the rhetoric from the Trump administration has discouraged families from applying,” Colston said.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the CSAC had received only 50 percent of the applications it had at the same time last year. Medina’s work helped Dream Act applications increase to 70 percent of last year’s numbers in the past 10 days, said Colston. More than 23,000 applications have been submitted as of press time.

A study by the UC Berkeley School of Law found that an estimated 283 undocumented students enrolled during the 2013-14 academic year and approximately 380 enrolled during the 2014-15 academic year. As of 2015, a total of 2,000 undocumented students were estimated to be in the UC system, according to the study.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said in an email that the university continues to support undocumented students. In his email, Vazquez reiterated that the university will continue to protect the privacy and civil rights of all undocumented members of the UC community, adding that no confidential student information would be released to any federal agencies.

“The UC system will continue to do everything in its power to remain a welcoming and safe place where all students, regardless of immigration status, can enroll and graduate,” Vazquez said in the email.

Contact Carina Zhao at [email protected].