Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Undocumented students: keep college plans alive

The following commentary piece printed in today's issue of the Austin American-Statesman shares our views.  We meet many students in Austin's high schools who are affected adversely by immigration policies that threaten their families and their own future education.  It's important for undocumented students to know that, despite SB-4 legislation and the unwelcoming rhetoric of many Texas legislators, Texas law still allows undocumented high school students to apply for Texas Grant funding for college and in-state tuition when students meet these three qualifications:
1)  The student has lived in Texas for at least three years
2) The student is graduating or has graduated from a high school in Texas
3) The student signs an affidavit indicating intent to apply for permanent residency in the US
Thus, undocumented students who meet this criteria should fill out TAFSA forms for Texas financial aid for college, even though they are denied federal financial aid.  Also, a number of organizations and colleges offer scholarships that don't discriminate on the basis of citizenship status.
We believe that our communities are better when we make it easier rather than harder for all students to obtain a college education when that is their goal.

Here is the commentary piece by special contributor, Franklin Strong, in the May 30, 2017 issue of the Austin American-Statesman:

SB 4 hurts immigrants - and the rest of America
by Franklin Strong

A student I taught last year — I’ll call her Ana — comes by my classroom at the end of the day to ask if I’ll write a recommendation for her when she applies to colleges next fall. I tell her of course, and ask her if she’s excited to be a senior.
She says she is, but she’s nervous. “Why?” I ask. She talks about her ACT scores and college applications. She mentions that her Junior Seminar teacher is frustrated with her because, in making lists of colleges to apply to next year, she keeps refusing to include any out-of-state schools.
“Why?” I ask. “Why not keep a variety of options?”
“I’m undocumented,” she explains. “Well, I mean, I have DACA. I’m a DREAMer.”
I ask why that means she won’t apply to out-of-state schools. I know some schools won’t take undocumented immigrants, but many will. Why not focus on those?
“It’s just that I don’t want to fall in love with a school and then find out I can’t go there.”
She says she visited Colorado last summer with an extracurricular club and was enchanted by the state. She came home and told her mom she wanted to go to college there. Her mom was thrilled. So, this girl has been researching universities in the state and found one that appealed to her. But she won’t put it on her list.
Another student tells me about her aunt and uncle in Houston, who left for Mexico when it became clear Senate Bill 4 would pass, taking their son — this student’s cousin — with them. He was a senior, college-bound. Now, he doesn’t know when he’ll finish his education. This girl tells me her parents are considering doing the same thing with her. They’ve already pulled her brother out of his charter elementary school and put him into a neighborhood school.
“Why?” I ask.
“Less driving,” she says.
This girl loves acting; she is always writing about her auditions and rehearsals. Now, she says, she’s had to give it up, because her mom won’t drive her to auditions anymore.
Her family had two dogs, but they sent them to live with relatives in the country.
“They bark,” she says, “and we don’t want the cops to come because of the noise.”
The Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel recently wrote about the lessons Texas can learn from how immigrants in Arizona have dealt with the immigration laws passed there in 2010. She describes one Phoenix couple that now hesitates before calling the police or before accessing public health care for their children, who are American citizens. After SB 1070 passed, Kriel writes, the couple chose to “make their lives smaller.”
This is exactly what I’ve seen with my students: a narrowing. A self-restriction. After the first travel ban and the February raids, Dana Snitzky wrote about the responsibility of bearing witness — of answering important questions like “Who has been detained?” and “Who has been denied entry?” and “Who has been deported?”
And she’s right: We need to hear about the five-year-old handcuffed at the airport. And about the father detained while taking his daughter to school. But we also need we need to record this narrowing, which is less likely to show up in statistics or in images on the news. We need to talk about the families who are too afraid of the police to keep their pets. The parents who drive to the store looking over their shoulders. The students limiting their college options.
If stripping people of their dignity, opportunities and joy is the method by which we achieve our goals, then we come up with monstrous ideas — like forcibly separating mothers and children, or holding undocumented immigrants in facilities with appalling conditions.
And we start by thinking that maybe it’s OK for people who aren’t supposed to be here to live lives that are dimmer and smaller. In doing so, we make our nation — and ourselves — smaller, too.

Strong recently completed a PhD in comparative literature and now teaches at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School.

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