One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Undocumented Students
Newfound Support for Getting into College Met with Worsening Financial Struggles

Santa Barbra Independent
Saturday, August 20, 2011
By Thy Vo

After Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law in July that would ease access to privately funded financial aid for undocumented students, both the bill’s advocates and critics are up in arms about the impact of immigration on higher education, as the state faces increasing cuts to public education and services.

AB130, just half of the California Dream Act, allows undocumented students in California to access private scholarships through public universities. AB131, the other half of the proposed legislation (which has yet to be passed), would open up publicly funded financial aid like Cal Grants to qualifying illegal immigrants in the state. But as tuition continues to rise at public universities — for the upcoming school year, it will jump 17.6 percent at the University of California and 22 percent at California State University campuses — Dream Act advocates say the barrier of paying for college is increasingly real for undocumented students.

Marla Ramirez, now working on her PhD in Chicano/a studies at UCSB, knows firsthand how hard paying for an out-of-pocket education can be. Ramirez came to the United States from Mexico in 1996, when she was 14. As the first in her family to attend college, Ramirez didn’t know her legal status would affect her educational opportunities until it was time to apply for college. It was when she first met with a college counselor that Ramirez discovered that, unlike a K-12 education (which is free for anybody in the country, documented or not), college isn’t free — in fact, it costs a lot of money. “I was panicking, and [the counselor] explained that there were scholarships… but during the application process I realized I needed a social security number for most of them,