Michael Uribes / The Collegian
Less than 1 percent of students who attend California public colleges and universities benefit from Assembly Bill 540, which allows them to pay the same as citizens regardless of immigration status.
The data comes in part from a University of California (UC) annual report after both Republican gubernatorial candidates, Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, threatened to repeal the bill, stating undocumented immigrants are a burden on taxpayers and further harms California’s struggling economy.
Edgar Jimenez, an undocumented Fresno State senior under the Assembly Bill (AB) 540 waiver pursuing a double major in civil engineering and mathematics, said the bill has been an enormous opportunity for him.
“My parents are farmworkers,” Jimenez said. “I was brought to this country at age 15. If the law is changed, many students like me would not be able to attend college.”
Lawmakers approved AB 540 in 2001 with GOP support, which requires applicants, including citizens, to have attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated. It is estimated that a majority of the 65,000 undocumented high school graduates resides here.
The report highlights that documented students account for more than two-thirds of AB 540 recipients every year at the University of California’s (UC) 10-campus system since the program’s introduction; graduate students comprise more than 96 percent of the total each year.
Also, 1,941 students were AB 540 recipients of all 226,000 enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year. Also, 581 could be undocumented, and only 267 are Latino.
In the California State University’s (CSU) 23-campus system there were 3,633 students under the AB 540 exemption of all 433,000 students enrolled for the 2008-2009 cycle. It is unknown how many are undocumented since the CSU and community college do not divulge immigration status.
In the case of community colleges, there were 2.8 million students enrolled in 2008-2009, 857,758 were Latino. Across its 110 campuses, 32,134 are covered under AB 540.
“It is already expensive enough for me to pay $26 per unit here at City,” said Fresno State biology major Vanessa Cantu who takes elective courses at Fresno City College. “I’m paying all my fees out-of-pocket.”
“I wish I could just go to school for free,” Cantu said. “I don’t even care about extra financial aid. I can afford my materials, but tuition is outrageous even with AB 540.”
At Fresno State, nonresident and foreign students are required to pay $372 per unit in addition to the mandatory registration and course fees if not under AB 540. So, an undergraduate student taking 12 units must pay $4,465.50 on top of the regular $2,336.50 tuition.
Undocumented AB 540 students are ineligible for state and federal financial aid and scholarships sometimes require citizenship.
According to Whitman’s official website, “as governor, Meg will support policies that will not allow undocumented immigrants admission to state-funded institutions of higher education, such as UC, CSU and community colleges.”
Whitman’s GOP rival has similar postings on his website.
“Ending in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at California’s public colleges and universities,” is bulleted in Poizner’s immigration plan at stevepoizner.com. It further states that, “this practice must end and, as governor, Steve will make sure that it does.”
Jose Chavez, a business major at Fresno State, said his family migrated here from El Salvador illegally when he was 3 years old, but has not been able to obtain legal status.
“I have been living here my whole life,” Chavez said. “I did not choose to come to another country and face so many obstacles. I contribute to my community, I pay taxes and I deserve to go to school like everyone else.”
He added that finding a job to afford school is already a burden.
“I get no financial aid,” Chavez said. “If given the opportunity, undocumented students can make a difference in California’s economy. We are a qualified, but ignored workforce.”
Students like Chavez have no way of obtaining citizenship since the U.S. immigration system requires applicants to be sponsored by an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident.
At Fresno State, scholarships are available to all students who are incoming freshman, continuing or transfer including out-of-state students, undergraduate or graduate students regardless of immigration status.