The legislature's Higher Education Committee heard hours of testimony Tuesday, in support of allowing undocumented students to access financial aid at state colleges.
All students at state colleges, no matter their citizenship status, must pay a portion of their tuition into the college’s own financial aid system. But those who are undocumented can’t apply for that institutional aid.
A bill, HB 5031, before the legislature this session would change that.
Hazel Mencos, a 16-year-old student at Wilbur Cross High School spoke in favor of the legislation. She spoke of crossing the border as an unaccompanied child three year ago, fleeing violence in her native Guatemala. "Many, many children in other countries want to go to college, and they can't go," she said. "HB5031 will be one of the things that will help me a lot in the trajectory of my education in this country."
Kaley Lentini of the American Civil Liberties Union called the current barrier to financial aid unjust and wrong. "By placing an unequal financial burden on both undocumented students and their families, Connecticut is hamstringing itself and its future," she said. "They offer talents and skills that Connecticut should encourage and seek to benefit from."
Questioned by the committee about whether the state could face a lawsuit on equal protection grounds, Lentini said that such suits have been brought in other states, notably Texas.
Shazia Husain is a student at Western Connecticut State University, originally from Guyana. She told lawmakers she’s the first in her immigrant family to go to college.
"As a nation, we pride ourselves on the belief that youth are the future in this country. Yet we create barriers that make it hard for undocumented immigrant students to pursue their dream," she said. "No child should ever feel that education is a struggle or something unreachable because of immigration status and the lack of financial aid support."
This is the fourth year that the bill has been raised - but it’s never passed the full legislature. Varun Khattar, a community organizer from Hartford told the committee this is the year to finally make the bill a law.
"Each year you and your colleagues have the opportunity to pass this simple, commonsense bill that has no fiscal note," he said. "Recognizing that it will not fix our broken immigration system, our public schools or our budget -- however it will directly improve the lives of thousands of young people currently enrolled in colleges here in Connecticut in order to pursue their dreams, support their families and contribute to our society."
The Connecticut legislation is raised in the same week that Congress has promised to tackle the issue of DACA recipients, who will soon have their temporary legal status revoked by the Trump administration.