After an adjustment to its enrollment policy, St. Louis Community College will now allow undocumented immigrant students with a U.S. high school diploma to pay in-jurisdiction tuition rates, a move that is celebrated by Latino groups as a huge step forward for immigrant youth.
According to STLCC's new policy, "Undocumented Students with a US high school transcript will be admitted to St. Louis Community College and will be eligible to pay maintenance fees based on their residence in accordance with existing residency requirements. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid."
Universidad Ya!, a Washington University-affiliated program that helps undocumented immigrant students get into college, celebrated the move as an important step forward for Latino immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and grew up as Americans.
Virginia Braxs, Spanish professor at Washington University and president of Universidad Ya!, says the change from international tuition rates to in-jurisdiction rates will help undocumented and DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) students finish college. Those students were and still are ineligible for federal aid, but Braxs says the increased tuition rates made it all the more difficult to get a degree.
"This community of young people is graduating from high school," Braxs tells Daily RFT. "They face huge barriers. They make great sacrifices -- all my students work-part time through high school and college to contribute to their families. It's really a struggle because you don't have too much time to study if you have to work and you're contributing to your family. But at the same time, you want to finish and go on."
Immigration is one of those "hot-button" polarizing topics in the U.S. these days and many argue that allowing in-state or in-jurisdiction tuition to undocumented students is detrimental to taxpayers, but Braxs says that's not true.
"[Undocumented students] cannot apply to federal aid, so, on the contrary, we are benefiting from the taxes they pay because they are working, but they do not get any benefit," she says. "So that's a misconception that people have."
Braxs further explained that young immigrants who qualified for DACA status were given social security numbers and work permits, so they pay taxes. However, they are still ineligible for federal aid, meaning their tuition is paid through private means, either out-of-pocket or scholarships.
The STLCC move is a step forward, but Braxs says the immigrant advocacy community is still waiting on the answers to bigger questions regarding the statuses of immigrant youth in the U.S., such as what kind of residency and immigration status they should be allowed to have.
"We have very intelligent, bright, young people with college degrees that can contribute to the region, be a financial benefit for the region if they had a legal status and residency," Braxs says. "But that will depend on Congress from now on."
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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