August 29, 2014

Undocumented Students Struggle In CUNY

By Stephanie Montero

All  student names have been changed to protect their identities. Even though their names are made up, their stories are real

“I attended school in Harlem from 1st grade to high school and I believe I still have much more learning to do,” said Lugo.

Although CUNY schools allow undocumented students to attend college, not a lot of people are aware of this policy.

Fernandez, a student at John Jay College, said, “Wow, I didn’t know that illegal students are allow to attend college. I thought they couldn’t attend because of financial aid. It must be very tough for them to pay for tuition. I have to pay for tuition on my own so I feel their pain.”

Undocumented students who attended a New York high school for more than two years and have contacted a state college within the five years of receiving their diploma, are qualified for in-state tuition. However, they do not qualify for financial aid programs.

In a press release, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein noted that he is working on getting undocumented students who attend CUNY aid from the New York State Tuition Assistant Program.

The only types of financial aid that an undocumented student can receive are private scholarships. For instance, on almost any scholarship website, such as scholarships.com, it would indicate that only U.S. citizens or legal residents can apply.

Lugo, a junior at Baruch College, is an undocumented student who receives no financial aid nor was she eligible for any scholarships due to her immigration status.

Lugo came from Guatemala illegally when she was four years old with her parents and her two cousins. She went to elementary school and graduated high school with a 96 average.

“I don’t understand why I couldn’t get any scholarships, when I was well qualified for all the scholarships that were being offered to other high school students,” said Lugo.

She did community service and achieved honors in all four years in high school.

“I have to work two jobs and babysit my younger brothers in order to pay for Baruch College,” Lugo said. I’m studying journalism and I would like to become a journalist.”

She is one of the many students that attend school and receives no assistance to pay for college. The hardship of paying for school is a sacrifice that Lugo is willing to make. Lugo said, “I wake up at 4 AM to go babysit and then at 3 PM I run to tutor two kids on the Lower East Side. After I’m done babysitting the kids at 7 PM, I rush to campus, to go to my 7:30 PM class.”

Vasquez, a junior at Lehman College, came to the United States with a visitor’s visa. His visa expired and he decided to stay here.

He paid out-of-state tuition for the first semester because there was an issue with his status on the Lehman College financial aid computers.

“There was an error in the system and I was being charged out-of-state tuition,” Vazquez said.

Lugo said she had to work even harder than a resident of New York to pay for school. “That meant that I had double the charge of what I originally was going to pay,” said Vasquez. “I didn’t want my classes to be dropped because it worked perfectly with my job schedule so I paid what the school told me to pay.”

“After bringing in a copy of my high school diploma, missing a day of work, and waiting three hours on the stupid one stop line; I finally got my problem solved.” Even though their problems get resolved they have to go through a headache. “They changed the status to in-state-tuition and I got my money reimbursed. I went through such a hassle to go to school,” said Vasquez.

Velez, a freshman at Lehman College, is also an undocumented student that makes sacrifices to attend college. Her mother earns $300 a week and works an eleven-hour shift, six days a week in a fruit stand in Washington Heights. Since her mother doesn’t make enough for the household, Velez has to work too.

She works in a Lower East Side hotel as a housekeeper. “I have to pay for tuition, a babysitter for my baby girl, and help mom pay the bills in the apartment,” said Velez. “Sometimes I just want to scream and run away but I know that all these sacrifices will pay off.”

Some faculty and administrators acknowledge the hardships undocumented students have to face. Carolina Bank Munoz a professor at Brooklyn College and author of academic journal article called “A Dream Deferred: Undocumented Students at CUNY” acknowledges the difficulties that undocumented students face when attending college.

“I believe that undocumented students should receive financial aid such as state and federal loans. Having undocumented students take loans will benefit the government,” said Munoz.

She mentions that CUNY was tuition free back in 1987.

“Many students come up to me because I teach immigration laws and they ask for legal help for themselves, parents or siblings. They also ask me if I know any lawyers that could help them,” Munoz said.

“I hope that the future generation would be able to receive financial aid and not go through my headache,” said Velez.