Illegal immigrants denied financial aid

Cara Crossett
Assistant Copy Editor     

   Illegal immigrants in Arkansas will not have the chance to receive state scholarships or qualify for in-state tuition due to the Senate’s decision to not pass House Bill 1525.

   House Bill 1525 or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was formed to give illegal high school Hispanic students in Arkansas the chance to go to a university and receive the same financial assistance that legal citizens receive.

   According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Arkansas’ population consists of 3.2 percent of Hispanics, about 86,000 people.  According to the Federation of American Immigration Reform, Arkansas has 27,000 illegal immigrants. If the Dream Act had passed, it would have given illegal Hispanics an opportunity for an education beyond high school.

   Some people, worried the act would have encouraged more Hispanics to cross the border illegally, do not understand the fairness of the Dream Act.

   As recorded in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette during a debate, Rep. Bill Pritchard, a Republican opposed to the Dream Act, asked Rep. Joyce Elliot, a Democrat for the Dream Act, if she thought the bill would encourage illegal immigration to Arkansas. Elliot told Pritchard the act benefits children, who are not breaking the law.

   Others, like Republican Rep. Denny Altes, have worried about the repercussions the Dream Act could have on Arkansas.

   According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Rep. Altes said, “What kind of message are we sending to the people south of the border, you know?  Are we saying, ‘Yeah come on,’ or are we saying, ‘No, there’s still a border there’.”

   Although these questions need answers and solutions, the Dream Act would have given many opportunities to illegal Hispanic high school students. Many of these student’s parents cannot afford to send them to universities because of the rates of out-of-state tuition. The Dream Act would have given parents the opportunity of paying in-state tuition costs. The Dream Act would also have helped only the students who deserve its opportunities, illegal Hispanic students who do well in school.

   Even though the Dream Act has a few kinks that need to be figured out, more than half of the Arkansas House of Representatives voted to pass the bill in order to help the progression of illegal Hispanic immigrants’ education in our country.  The Senate did not agree.

   “We have allowed these kids to dream. We have put them in our schools, we have urged them to dream and then we cut them off the moment they get out of high school,” Elliot said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Opinions of UAM students and faculty

    The subject of illegal immigrants receiving financial help for higher learning in Arkansas has become a concern for many students and faculty on the University of Arkansas-Monticello campus. Monticello, being located in southeast Arkansas, has many Hispanic migrants working and being educated in the area. The Dream Act would have given many Hispanic high school students in Monticello the chance to receive funds for an education at UAM. 

   Esbeida Arce, a current UAM student who migrated illegally from Mexico with her parents and brother when she was 3 but has since become a legal citizen, said she believes illegal aliens who graduate from Arkansas high schools should qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid.

   “I believe they should qualify because illegal aliens also pay taxes and it is not likely they are asking for hand-outs,” Arce said. 

   Damian Vaca, a current UAM student, came to the United States as a child from Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico on a permission card with his family.  To become a U.S. citizen, Vaca had to go through the legalization process and receive his green card. Vaca said he does not believe that it is unfair for others to come into this country illegally because “everyone has a right to better themselves.”  

   “I think the bill would have helped a lot of young people that want to better themselves,” Vaca said. “How can helping someone better themselves have a negative affect? Everyone that wants to pursue a career should have an opportunity to do so.” 

   A senior who requested not to be named agrees with the Senate’s decision to not pass the bill. Currently receiving financial aid, she said, “It seems unfair for illegal citizens to receive financial help for college when legal citizens cannot get money to go to school.” 

   She said before receiving money, illegal immigrants should have to go through the process of becoming a legal citizen.   

   “Once they become citizens, there should be funds set aside for them to go to school because, more than likely, they’ll need the help, but they should have to become a citizen first,” she said. 

   Daniel Ramirez, a current UAM student and an employee for the migrant program at the Hermitage, Ark., high school, said he thinks the Dream Act would give many illegal Hispanic high school students the opportunity to further their education and have a better chance of succeeding in the future. 

   Ramirez, a U.S. citizen from southern Texas, has had experience doing manual labor that many illegal migrants face when coming to the United States. Ramirez worked as a migrant worker from the age of 9, picking strawberries and cucumbers from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday from June through September or October. He missed a lot of school.   

   “I knew I didn’t have the chance other children had,” Ramirez said. “That’s why when I turned 18 I told my father I was done with this kind of work. I wanted an education.  I wanted a life for myself that my family never had. So I applied to UAM and received an academic scholarship and a Pell grant.”

   Ramirez said the Dream Act could better Hispanic culture in the United States through their education and lifestyle improvements. Working with the migrant program, Ramirez helps some illegal Hispanic students with their school work and has become close friends to all of them, but one in particular.  

   “There is a young guy in the migrant program, a junior in high school, he runs track and he’s really good at it. The University of Arkansas-Fayetteville has been looking at him, but he’s not legal. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him after high school but it sure is a shame to let talent and potential like that go by,” Ramirez said. 

   Isabel Bacon, a foreign language professor at UAM, said illegal immigrants receiving financial aid is a “complex” subject. Bacon, born in Nicaragua and raised in Guatemala, came to the United States to go to college, where she got married and decided to stay. She became an American citizen making it easier for her parents to get their resident’s visa, and because her brother is a medical doctor the process was easy for him too. 

   Bacon, having seen the struggles people go through when immigrating to the United States, said illegal aliens who graduate from an Arkansas high school should qualify for in-state tuition rates but should not qualify for taxpayer-funded state scholarships.   

   “The state should pressure the federal government for a comprehensive immigration plan,” Bacon said. “How are these students going to pay for college if they are not allowed to work because they and their parents are not here legally? What are they going to do after college? What are the consequences for all of us when we allow people to work and live in this country but do not educate them?”

   Bacon said she disagrees with the Senate on their decision against the bill. 

   “They are not facing reality. Many Arkansans have contributed to this problem. We are happy to get the money that illegal aliens provide but we don’t want to take responsibility for the future consequences of our present decisions. Didn’t we do this in the past? Haven’t we learned anything from history?” Bacon asked. 

   Bacon said we need to look at ourselves for the answers to this situation and make sure we answer it in a way in which we will be able to live with. 

   “We should ask ourselves, ‘What was it that made this country so great?’ then act to ensure that future generations will bless us for doing what is morally right, giving them a better and happier society,” she said.

States with a greater Hispanic population 

   The illegal alien population expands each year, creating a growth of Hispanic people throughout the nation. Arkansas, Texas and California experienced some of the largest increases in immigration, including illegal immigration.

   According to the United States Census Bureau, Arkansas has an illegal resident population of 27,000. Twenty-seven percent of Arkansas non-citizen immigrants have income below the poverty level.

   Unlike Texas and California, Arkansas’ Senate has opposed the Dream Act, yielding illegal aliens who graduate from Arkansas high schools to receive financial aid and in-state tuition.

   According to FAIR, in 2000, more than one-quarter of the children in Texas were foreign born or the child of an immigrant. A Scripps Howard poll held in Texas from February March 2002 asked whether there should be tougher restrictions on foreign student visas. According to a Dallas Morning News article, 80 percent of Texans said restrictions should be made tougher, .

   California, with a total population of 35,893,799, has an illegal resident population of 2, 209, 000 people, making up 32 percent of illegal immigrants in the entire country, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau figures. In 1996, the U.S. Census Bureau figured California taxpayers spent about $8 million on illegal immigrants. 

   Texas has an illegal alien population of about 1,041,000 out of a total population of 22,490,022 people, according to FAIR. With their great number of illegal immigrants, Texas and California were the first two states to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the normal requirements include three year in-state residency, graduation from an in-state high school, acceptance into a public college or university and an affidavit saying the student will file for legal immigration.

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