By Georgia Johnson, Alexa Lomberg and Montse Reyes
This June, the $5 million grant program the UC Office of the President (UCOP) allocated for system-wide support for students who are undocumented will run out. For many students, the program slated to take its place leaves much to be desired. The DREAM loan program, which provides loans up to $20,000 total per student, will be available for over 3,000 students who are undocumented in the UC and California State University system.
UC President Janet Napolitano recently announced an additional $5 million fund known as SB 1210 — split by the UC and UC-allocated state funds — for the loan program. SB 1210, which established the DREAM loan program, planned to start distributing loans in the 2015-16 school year and was not immediately funded when the bill was approved in September 2014.
Napolitano said the loan program will “reduce the gap” of access to public and private student loans, but students remain concerned about their ability to pay off loans, given the uncertainty of their immigration status and job security. In its press release, UC Santa Cruz’s Undocumented Alliance said the plan “completely ignores students’ demands to continue funding services and programs encouraging retention for undocumented students.”
About 60 students held a protest and rally starting at Quarry Plaza and ending at Clark Kerr Hall midday Wednesday. While the march was spurred by the announcement of the loan program, students condemned recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and border patrol recruitment at UC campuses. At Kerr Hall, the Alliance delivered a list of demands including an increased budget for Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP), an on-site attorney to provide students with free immigration legal services and a meeting with Chancellor George Blumenthal by Feb. 22 at 4 p.m.
“We cannot be another group of students, another generation that gets rolled over,” said third-year transfer student José Torres Vázquez. “That’s why we are fighting these loans — not just for ourselves, but because we want to set an example that we also stand with our brothers and sisters in solidarity, fighting this broken college education system.”
Ana Navarrete, academic counselor and Undocumented Student Services coordinator, said she felt there is support for students who are undocumented in retention and academics, but noted that determining the adequacy of support means looking at all offices with which students interact.
“Do they have adequate information on organization policy or cultural competence of undocumented students?” Navarrete asked. “It’s a work in progress.”
She emphasized that support for students who are undocumented should spread across the campus. “To just have one hub where undocumented students are served just takes away the responsibility for the rest of the campus to hold itself accountable for supporting and providing resources for undocumented students,” Navarrete said.
In 2013, UC Santa Cruz received $550,000 — the fourth highest allocation among the UC campuses — to support students who are undocumented. The money funded services for these students including a specific academic adviser, a textbook lending library and a professional development program offering internships, among other services.
“It’s still a question mark [whether the funding will expire this year],” said Retention Services Executive Director Pablo Reguerin, who followed the march to Kerr Hall. “But there is speculation that the funding for loans could compete with other funding, that’s a concern.”
While some students who are undocumented are eligible for AB 540 exemptions, which makes them eligible for in-state tuition, they still aren’t eligible for federal aid like Pell Grants or work-study. Cal Grants and UC Grants are the only aid they can receive. Aprí Medina, the financial aid associate director, said total grant eligibility is the same for every student based on their expected family income, not their immigration status.
During the march, Alliance members and allies were joined by passing students and met with honks and claps in support of their cause. However, a student march leader who asked to remain anonymous, overheard students laughing and criticizing the group — asking to not be “associated with these people” and shouting “shut the fuck up” out of a window.
“I don’t think they understand how complex the situation is because it has a lot more to do with escaping violence and situations that we can’t afford,” the anonymous student said. “They are coming here not because they want to take a vacation but because they are forced out of the country because they won’t be able to survive.”
Students from multiple UC campuses have protested the presence of U.S. Customs and Border Protection booth at career fairs. At UC Irvine, students petitioned the agency to back out of its spot at the upcoming fair, and at UC Santa Barbara more than 50 students protested near its booth. In response, the University of California Student Association (UCSA) passed a resolution condemning deportation raids.
“I want to acknowledge the support for the fact that [Napolitano] has been here for undocumented students and we see that withering away because the loans they are providing really aren’t the kind of financial aid that undocumented students should be getting,” said Guillermo Rogel, Student Union Assembly vice president of external affairs.
Rogel said in the UC Student Association quarterly meeting on Jan. 27 that Napolitano was informed of UCSA’s resolution. Because of her previous position as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, many students expressed concern over the danger of the ICE raids. While Napolitano agreed to publicly denounce the ICE raids, she also wanted to maintain opportunities for UC students to be recruited by border patrol.
Undocumented Alliance member, identified as Melissa, denounced ICE raids and the targeting of women and children by immigration officials, noting that deportation causes widespread fear in communities. She criticized policies’ failure to address issues facing undocumented communities, or the grief that comes with separating families.
Melissa, who emigrated to the United States at the age of four and grew up near the border in Coachella, California, remembers always knowing about her documentation status.
“I remember [my mom] would tell me if you come home from school and no one is here, memorize your tia’s phone number so you know who to call so you’re not alone, and you’ll be in charge of your siblings,” she told a crowd in front of Kerr Hall.
Students also emphasized that immigration is not just a Latin@ issue and advocated for solidarity among the undocumented immigrant community, including Asian and South Asian immigrants who face similar threats.
With uncertainty about whether funds from the original grant program will be reinstated, the monetary threat of affording college remains for students who are undocumented. The main concern academic counselor Ana Navarrete has about the loan program is how beneficial it will be for students after graduation.
“There are a lot of questions up in the air with this loan program,” Navarrete said. “Students are going to have to take a risk. As long as you make an educated choice that’s fine, but as a campus we need to make sure we are informing students of what are the consequences of taking out a loan, especially if in the future you can’t pay it.”