Letter to the Editor: DREAM Act

On September 21, 2011, The Corsair ran a story on the California DREAM Act, specifically on the AB131 component of the legislation. The undocumented student community and our allies on campus applaud the Corsair for being bold and progressive in choosing to highlight the controversial issue of financial aid for undocumented students on the front page of the Corsair in an unbiased manner.

That being said, many of us were disappointed with some parts of the article.

These range from the choice of language, to lack of elaboration of the bill and background information about AB 540 students, and most importantly the failure of the staff to interview or at least approach campus clubs that deal with and have extensive knowledge on this issue.

Without these pieces of information, the undocumented community and our allies do not feel that the SMC Corsair readers get the information they need to see the legislation from the perspective of students who would be directly affected by this piece of legislation.

In writing this article, the Corsair chose to use the phrase “illegal immigrant” to describe us.

We are not ‘illegal,’ as no human being can be. Furthermore, being in the country without proper documents is not a criminal offense, but a civil offense. Instead, we prefer the term undocumented, as the word ‘illegal’ brings up negative and harmful connotations.

The Corsair’s choice to use the word ‘illegal’ in lieu of ‘undocumented’ only perpetuates the negative stereotypes that portray the immigrant community.

The article correctly mentions that "Santa Monica College is arguably the most cosmopolitan campus in the state...the DREAM Act is an important piece of legislation that holds the fate of a broad spectrum of [SMC] students."

This along with the quote from Professor Eric Oifer which said, “...community colleges were designed as open-access institutions...to extend the DREAM Act expands our capacity to be an open-access institution,” shows that community colleges are spaces that are conducive to providing higher education to undocumented students in an open manner.

SMC has an undocumented student community who are not only regularly attending classes, but are also actively participating on campus. These students are taking the initiative to become organized as clubs to take that issue on and be voices for the undocumented student community.

On the SMC campus alone there are four student organized clubs that have taken on this issue. Three organizations indirectly touch on the issue of undocumented students, including MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana de Aztlán), ALAS (Association of Latin American Students), and LSU (Latino Student Union).

Lastly, there is IDEAS (Improving Dreams Equality Access Success), a multi-cultural organization that directly deals with the plight of undocumented students.

We at IDEAS are incredibly disappointed that the Corsair failed to approach our organization when writing this article, as our club’s purpose and mission is to provide a voice, promote access to higher education, provide support, and to be a sanctuary for undocumented students.

We have firsthand knowledge and experience on the difficulties of being undocumented AB 540 students, as many of our members are in that circumstance and those that are our allies attend the meetings and understand the struggles.

We as a club also promote political activism and awareness and on September 20th, IDEAS held a phone-banking event in support of AB131.

The Corsair had a photographer at our event, and even published a photo in the article, yet our organization or our event in support of this legislation was not mentioned in the article, although the online version did contain a small mention of it through a caption below a photograph of Mohammad Jehangir, Co-Chair of IDEAS.

Being at such a diverse and open campus such as SMC, you may not realize that you are in the midst of undocumented students. We are around you, hidden in plain sight by our sheer normality.

But, that is no excuse not to incorporate a student voice into the article.

AB 131 would directly affect a population of students at SMC, and it is unacceptable that there was no attempt to ask a student how this bill would affect their lives and their educational aspirations.

Both proponents and opponents of the bill were interviewed, yet this isn’t about Democrats or Republicans.

This is about the lives of thousands of Californian students and their contribution to the state of California. Hitting closer to home, this is about the lives of SMC students and their contribution to the SMC campus and community.

Furthermore, we would like to elaborate as to what exactly AB540 and AB131 are and what these pieces of legislation actually say.

AB540 is a piece of legislation that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

AB540 students are the students that the California DREAM Act intends to aid. These students must fit these qualifications: • Have attended an in-state high school for at least three years. • Graduated from a California high school or received a high school equivalent degree. • Not holding one of many non-immigrant visas, as defined by federal law — applying directly to undocumented students.

The majority of AB 540 students are actually not undocumented, and this is an important fact to know.

Many of the beneficiaries of AB 540 are documented students who went to high school in California then later moved out of state.

The California DREAM Act and its components, including AB 131, would only help the small percentage of undocumented AB540 students currently enrolled in our higher education systems and do not receieve federal financial aid.

In the 2007-2008 school year, the University of California estimated AB540 students make up less than three-tenths of a percent of 220,000 students in the UC system, and more than 68 percent of the 1,941 students who are AB540 were US Citizens or “documented” immigrants.

More recently, The Daily Californian reported in an article entitled “Undocumented students small portion of DREAM Act beneficiaries” that in the “2009-10 academic year, 2,157 of the 231,853 UC students qualified for in-state tuition under AB 540 across the entire UC system.

Of this group, the UC Office of the President estimates that only 480 to 614 of these students were undocumented."

In the Cal State University System, there are only 3,633 AB 540 students in the current school year, making up less than one percent of the 440,000 students currently enrolled.

The California Community College system has the most number of AB540 students, where 344,057 students out of the 2.89 million overall (again, less than one percent) in the 2008-09 school year were granted AB 540 waivers.

Looking at the data just provided, we can see that AB131 would benefit only a small percentage of undocumented students who make up less than 1% of students in each of California’s higher education systems (Community College, California State University, and University of California).

AB131 would allow undocumented students who meet the in-state tuition requirements (AB540) to be eligible for aid such as the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver, Institutional Student Aid (student aid program administered by attending college or university), and Cal Grants.

It is important, however, to make note that these types of aid would only be eligible to undocumented students only after they are awarded to eligible documented students. In other words, we would have to wait at the end of the line for whatever money has not been claimed.

In the future, we hope the Corsair will be more willing to reach out to students whose stories are the very stories you are printing in your paper.

By reaching out to others in the SMC community, we as a college can foster an environment where students feel included, and where their thoughts, opinions, and experiences will be heard and taken in consideration.

We need to keep SMC’s vast amount of resources and diversity of groups in mind and utilize what this cosmopolitan campus has to offer.

We hope in the future that we can work together, whether it be with the DREAM Act or other campus issues, and know that IDEAS is open and available.