Undocumented students rally in Hartford for financial aid

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– With one week left in the legislative session, there is a big push at the Capitol to persuade lawmakers that undocumented college students need access to financial aid. The bills face an uphill battle, and that hill got even steeper once it came out that one outspoken student is accused of vandalizing the UConn campus.

There are two bills. One in the House and one in the Senate. Together they would allow students to get financial aid here in Connecticut, regardless of their immigration status. The proposed legislation is getting both praise and criticism. All of it known as the “Students for a Dream Movement.”

“We are demanding that both chambers, that both parties, take this issue as a priority and vote for this legislation,” said Lucas Codognolla, of Connecticut Students for a Dream.

For four years, Connecticut Students for a Dream has been trying to get the state to allow undocumented immigrants access to institutional financial aid. That group, along with a coalition of higher education institutions, labor groups, faith leaders and community organizations, all stood together in the lobby of the state capitol Wednesday morning.

Connecticut already allows undocumented students to study at state colleges and universities. Their tuition already pays for financial aid for others.

“The whole building is taxation without representation,” said Bob Fernandez of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges. “They are paying into a fund that they have no access to, or are represented in.”

Two weeks ago undocumented students made their way to the Speaker of the House to throw support behind all of this. One of the people spearheading that effort is Eric Cruz Lopes. He submitted a petition with thousands of signatures in support of the bill. Two days before that, he was arrested for writing anti-Trump graffiti on the UConn campus. Police have been investigating him for nearly 6 months.They say he confessed to that graffiti and is now facing 103 different charges.

Related: Immigrant student’s arrest jeopardizes college financial aid legislation

There are now concerns that his arrest could hurt this entire movement.

“It is contradicting to that, they want the right of freedom and they have those freedoms but then to denigrate somebody’s name, no matter if you like the person or not, to me that is unacceptable,” said Dave Yaccarino, (R)North Haven.

“The poor decisions of one student should not become an excuse for people to paint all of these hard-working deserving young people with that same brush,” said Sen. Martin Looney / (D) New Haven.

“We hope that this one incident is not overshadowing years of work to pass this legislation,” Codognolla said. “We’re talking about students who will become future doctors, future lawyers, that will contribute to this economy.”

This bill has lost a significant amount of support and will most likely not even make it to the floor for a vote. There are also a number of people who find this bill troubling, saying undocumented students should not receive financial aid, adding that it takes away from those students who are legal citizens.

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