Dream Act application numbers surpass last year’s after successful campaign to overcome fears

March 3, 2017

Led by then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (center), demonstrators in Los Angeles sought and eventually won the passage of the California Dream Act. The 2011 law provides state financial aid for undocumented college students.

A campaign to allay undocumented students’ anxieties produced a last-minute rush of applications for California Dream Act college grants and brought the total to slightly higher than last year’s, officials said Friday.

For months, the numbers of applications had been badly lagging for the state-funded financial aid that low-income undocumented students can use for public and private colleges and universities in California. Administrators had attributed the decline to students’ and families’ fears that information on the application might be turned over to federal immigration authorities and used by the Trump administration to deport young people or their relatives.

However, with a flurry of media coverage, counseling efforts and high-profile messages from legislators in Sacramento, the number of Dream Act applications totaled 35,882 by the March 2 deadline, according to the California Student Aid Commission, which administers the aid.  That is 5 percent, or 1,713 more, than last year. The number of new applicants, 13,155, were just nine below last year’s while the renewals, 22,727, topped last year’s by 1,762.

“We are thrilled, excited,” said Lupita Cortez Alcalá, commission executive director.

She said that a lot of work by her staff, high schools, colleges, college readiness programs and immigrant assistance groups along with attention from the English and Spanish language media, starting with an initial EdSource article, helped push up the numbers in the last two weeks. The most important task, she said, was convincing potential applicants that personal data would not be shared with federal immigration authorities and that the state would  fight to keep any of it from being handed over.

“It really is a testament to California’s support of our Dreamer students and to the Dreamers’ courage,” Cortez Alcalá said. “The Dreamers and their families are putting this trust in us and we need to honor that trust. We need to protect their information and allow them to study and feel protected and safe.”

In an event last week at the state Capitol, Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), who is chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, pleaded with students and their families to apply for the Dream Act grants by the March 2 deadline and pledged to protect the data as much as possible. “We will do everything in our power to protect them,” he said of the so-called Dreamer students, young people brought to the United States illegally as children. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson had sent a letter to public school officials statewide and asked them to remind students and parents to file applications.

Last year, the application schedule for the Dream Act scholarships, like that for federal aid, was open for just two months, from Jan. 1 until March 2. During that time, the program received 34,169 applications for new grants and renewals, according to the commission. This year, the application period stretched five months, from Oct. 1 until March 2. But two weeks ago, just 20,097 Dreamer grant applications had been filed, alarming educators and Dreamers’ advocates who then launched intensive efforts to garner applications.

Dreamer students are allowed to pay the same discounted in-state tuition as legal residents and citizens. And for the past six years, those who met income and grade-point eligibility rules have received fee waivers at community colleges. Eligible students have also received Cal grants through the Dream Act of up to $5,472 this year at a CSU, $9,084 at an independent college and $12,240 at a UC campus. In addition, they are eligible for other campus-based aid, loans and other benefits. (In general, family income limits are usually about $50,000 for community college-based grants and up to $95,000 for a family of four for other Cal Grants.)

An estimated 750,000 Dreamers across the nation were given temporary protection from deportation and allowed work permits under President Barack Obama’s executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Donald Trump has expressed sympathy for Dreamers, raising some hopes he will maintain some form of DACA. Still, California officials said the White House’s other recent policies on immigration has raised anxieties among undocumented families about large-scale deportations.


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