Capitol Alert

California call to undocumented students: It’s safe to apply for financial aid

Maria Luna, a 2010 graduate of California State University, Sacramento, sits in the Senate gallery wearing her graduation cap and gown to show her support for a measure to allow students who are in the country illegally, to collect privately funded college scholarships, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, July 14, 2011.
Maria Luna, a 2010 graduate of California State University, Sacramento, sits in the Senate gallery wearing her graduation cap and gown to show her support for a measure to allow students who are in the country illegally, to collect privately funded college scholarships, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, July 14, 2011. AP

California lawmakers and educators are encouraging undocumented students to apply for state financial aid despite the current federal immigration climate.

The California Dream Act has provided financial aid to undocumented students since 2013. Recent fear among undocumented students about the Trump administration’s immigration actions, however, has kept many from filing an application.

Fewer students submitted applications in the first few months of this year than during the same period last year, according to the California Student Aid Commission. California community colleges launched an online video this week in which legislators and educators encourage California students to apply.

“Aid for low income families, including undocumented immigrants, is critical for their success,” said Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the higher education system. “(The California Dream Act) is an opportunity that California is providing to them. We want to make sure they get the benefits.”

Students’ applications do not involve federal agencies, and immigration statuses are invisible to those outside of the small application process, Oakley said. He said the institution plans to continue complying with the law, and applicants’ information will only be shared “when there is a genuine court order or subpoena.”

“Currently we feel that we are not in any jeopardy inside the federal law,” Oakley said. “But if that should change, we will work with the state attorney general to help our students.”

The California Department of Education asked students in a February letter to apply and also promised that the department would “take all available legal precautions to protect (students’) information.”

“The opportunity represented by a college education in California is a pathway to success for Dreamers,” the letter said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting students and families.”

California community colleges have not had any immigration policy challenges on their campuses so far, and Oakley said the institution would provide students access to legal representation if detained. State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who appeared in the video, said lawmakers will continue working on the program to support the state’s future success and prosperity.

“I’d like to tell every California Dreamer that the California Legislature is doing everything in our power to make sure you are protected, and feel welcome,” León said. “Here in California, we believe in building opportunities, not walls.”

Walter Ko: 916-321-1436, @juntaeko

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