Alarmed by the relatively low numbers of undocumented students applying for next year’s California Dream Act grants, California legislative and education leaders are urging students not to fear that filling out the college aid forms could trigger their deportation.
With a week left before the deadline, the number of applications for the state-funded Dream Act grants that help pay for college tuition is significantly lower so far than last year’s. Activists say students are reluctant to apply because they fear that personal information might be used to identify and deport undocumented young people and their relatives under the Trump administration’s new immigration policies. However, state officials emphasize that such data are not shared with federal immigration authorities and that the state will fight to keep any of it from being handed over.
In an event Wednesday at the state Capitol, Assemblymember 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.
“I hope they will not be deterred and will continue to move forward with their dreams and continue to apply,” Medina said.
He was joined at the press conference by Assembly members Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), vice chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus. They all said that the Trump administration’s recently announced plans to more forcefully search for and deport undocumented people, especially those with criminal records, will not affect the state’s goal of awarding financial aid so eligible low-income Dreamers can afford to enroll at community colleges, California State University, University of California and private colleges.
Bonta urged undocumented students to “remain focused on your goal despite some of the anxiety we know you may feel. Stay out of the shadows. Apply for the Dream Act. You have so much to contribute to our state and our nation. We support you. We embrace you. And you inspire us.”
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 34,166 applications for new grants and renewals, according to the California Student Aid Commission, which administers the grants. This year, the application period stretched five months, from Oct. 1 until March 2. But as of this past weekend, just 20,097 Dreamer grant applications were filed, a number that is 1,383 more than the previous week but still far from the hoped-for pace.
Trump administration officials on Tuesday said that the Dreamers are exempt from the crackdown at least for now, unless they commit crimes. An estimated 750,000 Dreamers 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 actions are making it more difficult to garner Dream Act applications.
On Wednesday, Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher noted that there are “a lot of ifs” surrounding DACA, but she said it would be “absolutely heartbreaking” if undocumented students with and without DACA status give up on a college education.
With so little time before the deadline, the state aid commission, counselors, schools and college-readiness agencies say they are working to boost those Dream Act application numbers.
“Please apply right away. The California Dream Act is the key to success in college and 21st century careers. It would be a shame if fear or confusion keeps students from applying for financial aid that they have earned and they deserve,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement issued Tuesday. Torlakson sent a letter to public school officials statewide and asked them to remind students and parents to file applications.