Conference focuses on plight of undocumented students

In Campus News, News
Photo by Sue Lagarde / Daily Titan

Cal State Fullerton’s AB 540 Taskforce hosted an informational conference in the Titan Student Union Portola Pavillion Friday titled, “Reaching the Dream Together: Helping AB 540 and Undocumented Students.” It was a free, all-day event that featured discussions on issues affecting students who lack legal residence.

The event was designed to inform students about AB 540 and the resources that are available for undocumented students on campus.

“The goal… was to help educate not only the campus community but outside community members about AB 540 and the undocumented student population,” said Elizabeth Munoz, co-chair of the AB 540 Taskforce and career specialist at CSUF.

Event organizers intended for college students, faculty and staff members, high school and college counselors to become educated on the matter, since many people are unaware what being an AB 540 or undocumented student means.

AB 540 is a California state law that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public higher education institutions. On Oct. 12, 2001, former Gov. Gray Davis added a new section to the law that allowed students who attended high school in California and graduated with a diploma or GED equivalent to pay in-state tuition.

Because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), students can reap the benefits of the law without fear of exposure or deportation.

The law gave students access to their education records, an opportunity to have the records amended, and control over the disclosure of information from the records. With some exceptions, schools must have a student’s consent prior to disclosing education records.

Keynote addresses began at 9:00 a.m. with Alejandra Rincón, a longtime advocate for undocumented students’ rights on equal access to a college education. She is the author of “Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students,” which includes information on admissions, financial aid and support organizations for undocumented students.

Rincón was followed by various “breakout session” workshops. They covered a range of topics affecting undocumented students, including the federal and state immigration law and information on scholarships and financial aid.

The AB 540 Networking workshop, presented by Melissa Montano-Ochoa, discussed the benefits of networking within the community and on campus. She described the various tools available to students on campus, such as the Chicana and Chicano Resource Center (CRC), in Pollak Library South Room 170A. The CRC offers information about on and off campus events, scholarships, student and professional organizations, and conferences.

“The CRC provides primarily resources to AB 540 and undocumented students in a number of ways,” said Elizabeth Suarez, Ph.D., the CRC coordinator. “We provide a safe space… It allows students to network across disciplines and across campus.”

Suarez said they have access to computers, printers, events and scholarship information; it is essentially a home away from home.

Speaker Joseph Cervantes, Ph.D., ran a workshop titled, “Balancing the Undocumented Immigrant Label with Emotional Wellness among University Students.” The group discussed the social psychological issues impacting immigrant youth in the university, as well as the various emotional challenges they face.

Another workshop provided information about the CSU admission process, AB 540 eligibility and the California DREAM Act implementation.

Speaker Ray Murillo went over the CSU admission application process and admission fee waiver for students hoping to attend CSUF. He also discussed the eligibility requirements for AB 540 and the changes in financial aid and support services under AB 130, AB 131 and the DREAM Act.

CSUF alumnus Carlos Amador of UCLA’s Labor Center for Research and Education was another keynote speaker for the conference. He was a part of the national campaign to pressure President Obama to stop deportations and grant deferred action for undocumented immigrant youth. He is the project coordinator of the Dream Resource Center at the UCLA Labor Center, an active member of Dream Team Los Angeles, and a board co-chair of the United We Dream network.

Gabriel Sandoval Esq., Senior Advisor and Director of Policy for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics explained Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). The program, which was announced June 15, will allow for young undocumented immigrants to apply for a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation.

Students seeking deferred action must meet certain criteria in order to qualify, including having a spotless criminal record, having lived in the United States before their 16th birthday and being under the age of 31 by June 15, 2012.

The candidates must have obtained a high school diploma or GED equivalent, be currently enrolled in school, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, according to Don Lyster, director of the National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Attorney Rosa Elena Sahagun, Esq., who regularly appears on CNN En Espanol, Noticias Univison and Telemundo, gave an informational speech on deferred action in Spanish. She offered several tips on how to fill out the application, and went over common errors that applicants make. She was also available for one-on-one questions at the end of her speech.

“We know how CSUF is a very supportive community for undocumented students so we always talk to them whenever we need them,” said Kenia Garcia, a member of the Orange County Dream Team.

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