‘Dreamers’ pushing for ‘Institutional Aid’ at state schools

Sen. Cornyn's office (Connecticut Students for a Dream)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — While the U.S. Senate is grappling this week with the fate of the so-called “Dreamers,” Dreamers here in Connecticut are pushing state lawmakers to allow them to be eligible for Institutional Aid at state colleges and universities.

They would have to be good students and in financial need to be eligible.

These Dreamers are young people brought here illegally when they were very young. It’s estimated there are about 8,000 in Connecticut.

The legislature and the governor made the decision seven years ago that if they went to high school here and got good grades, these Dreamers could go to college in Connecticut at the in-state tuition rate.

All of the students in the state college and university system pay into a pool of funds called Institutional Aid. It’s part of their tuition. Across all campuses, including UConn, it totals more than $100 million a year. The aid is distributed based on scholarly merit and financial need.

Related: Senate immigration debate kicks off Monday

Students under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly called DACA, are not eligible even though they pay into this fund.

Christopher Rodriguez, a student at New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School, told lawmakers on Tuesday, “There is no way at all that my family could afford to pay the full cost of college for four years.”

State lawmakers heard from many young high school-aged Dreamers on Tuesday. These are kids brought here as children who have done well in public schools like Wilbur Cross.

Ilse Lopez stated, “When you are making decisions for immigrants, please think of students like me who are working hard every day in our schools and community.”

Mark Ojakian, the President of the Connecticut State College and University system endorsed the proposal, saying, “They pay their tuition. 15 percent, at least, of their tuition dollars go into a pot that they cannot access.”

Higher Edcuation Republican co-committee chair Sen. Art Linares’ (R-Westbrook) father emigrated to the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba. Linares voted against this bill last year and said he had hoped the federal government had made a decision on DACA by now. “We want to make sure that they’re committed to becoming citizens, not taking advantage of the higher institutions and then going back home,” he said.

That seems an unlikely problem as many students were brought here so that their families could avoid various forms of oppression in their native countries. This is the fifth time advocates have attempted to get this law on the books. It is supported by Governor Malloy.

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