Undocumented graduates rally for aid

GLENDALE — [Updated] Nineteen-year-old Nancy Fernandez is in her second year at Glendale Community College, but once she gets her degree, there'll be no where to go for her to go.

She was admitted to slew of University of California campuses after high school, but she cannot afford tuition.

"I need financial aid," she said. "I don't have the resources to go where I could go."

She said her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was eight-months-old. Her undocumented status forbids her from traditional avenues for financial aid.

She joined more than two dozen Glendale Community College students and alums Tuesday to support the federal DREAM Act, which would give qualified undocumented immigrants access to citizenship, and by extension, financial aid. They'd get a green card after they enroll in a college or serve in the military.

"We want to tell people we are here, this is the only home we know and we want to contribute to our society," said Omar Moreno, a 2005 Glendale Community College graduate who moved to the U.S. at age 11. "And to do that, we need support from other people, people who can vote."

The DREAM Act was attached to a military spending bill that did not overcome a filibuster in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. The decade-old bipartisan bill is expected to be revisited after the November election, officials said. It would provide a path to citizenship for young adults who grew up in the U.S., are without a criminal record, graduate a high school and pass a background check.

"It's not the end of the road," Greg Perkins, a counselor and advisor to the student group that organized the rally, said at the rally. "We still want to make the message heard clearly."

The California Legislature passed a similar bill last month that is awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature.

It would open the door for UC regents to approve extending financial aid to Fernandez and other undocumented students who've been admitted to UC schools, but cannot afford higher education.

About 350 undocumented students are enrolled at Glendale Community College this semester, Perkins said. Many are Latino, but 10% are Armenian, 15% are Korean, and other ethnic groups at the college also lack the proper paperwork, he said.

Many of the students who rallied were without social security numbers and are forbidden from drivers licenses, college financial aid, or lawful employment. Many wore commencement caps and gowns, and some waved signs that read, "to DREAM is American," or chanted, "We want justice."

State law extends certain taxpayer benefits to undocumented immigrants, like public education. That is ultimately wasteful spending if students remain undocumented and in the shadows, Perkins said.

"They get a degree and they hit a brick wall," he said. "It's very short-sighted."

Some undocumented students are able to further their education through certain scholarships and fundraisers that offset tuition. Glendale Community College students said they've scheduled a car wash fundraiser Saturday in East L.A. that'll help participants with tuition.

First-year student Patricia Merlos, an El Salvadorian American citizen who immigrated to the U.S. at age 13, said she sees herself in the undocumented students' plight.

"These kids are smart, they want to do something good for themselves and their society," the 42-year-old said. "I wish these people had the opportunity to do something in their life, but they need support."

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