Despite national efforts to end DACA, undocumented students in Oregon will continue to have access to tuition equity if Senate Bill 1563 passes.
Students who are not citizens have historically had to apply for “official federal identification” — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals documentation — before they can be eligible for resident tuition at public universities.
Otherwise, they have to pay non-resident or international tuition costs, which can be three or four times more than in-state tuition per year.
But since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s deferred action program was terminated in 2017, the department is no longer accepting applications.
The Oregon bill is an attempt to bridge that gap, removing the restriction from undocumented students living in the state and continuing protections put into place in Oregon years ago.
In short, it would allow these students to continue getting access to lower tuition costs, scholarships and other financial aid.
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“This is the only country, the only state and the only home they have ever known,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, one of the chief sponsors of the bill. “Pure and simple, they are Americans in thought, word and deed.”
Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, and Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, are also chief sponsors.
Courtney worked on various bills in the past that sought similar equity for undocumented students, but did not come to fruition, including Senate Bill 10 in 2003 and Senate Bill 742 in 2011. Both passed the Senate but not the House, even with bipartisan support.
However, a Tuition Equity bill was passed via House Bill 2787 in 2013. This session’s bill would protect the 2013 legislation, keeping the path to college open for the same students covered before.
“I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I didn’t know about ‘tuition equity’ or federal immigration laws, we didn’t have DACA or DREAMers,” Courtney said. ” And the frustration these students felt after working so hard to graduate, only to realize they would be unable to afford college.”
Not much opposition was voiced at the Senate Education Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon. However, Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, requested additional stats on how many students would truly stand to benefit from the program.
The students covered by this bill must have been brought to the United States under the age of 16, are younger than 30 years old, do not pose a threat to national security or public safety and have continuously resided in the U.S. for the past five years.
Many of the education committee members, in addition to those listed as chief sponsors, are regular sponsors, including Chair Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.
“To punish young people brought here by their undocumented parents would be wrong. It would be cruel. It would be un-American,” Courtney said. “They are every bit a part of our American family.
“Let’s send Senate Bill 1563 to the Floor,” he said.
The work session for the bill was held over to the next committee meeting, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. in Hearing Room C at the Capitol.
One student’s story
Edith Gomez Navarrete was brought to Oregon illegally from Mexico when she was 1 year old.
She graduated high school with honors, earned Bachelor’s and Masters degrees and become a fourth-grade teacher at a dual English-Spanish immersion school in Eugene.
And even though she was one of only five students in her high school class to earn a full International Baccalaureate Diploma, she still faced many obstacles accessing higher education.
In 2012, Gomez Navarrete was accepted to Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, but was told she would have to pay international student tuition — close to $30,000 a year.
She was already living on her own and supporting herself. She said it would have been impossible to pay $120,000 for an undergraduate degree plus living costs.
“Undocumented students are ineligible for most scholarships, no matter how hard we work or how strong our academic record because the minimum documentation requirement is permanent residency,” she said.
Gomez Navarrete shared her story when testifying at the hearing Wednesday.
She was able to access a school’s Tuition Equity program and earn some scholarships as well, but could not access federal aid as an undocumented student.
“Without Tuition Equity, there was truly no possible chance we could ever pay for college,” she said. “All we want is an opportunity.”
In high school, Gomez Navarrete heard from many friends who saw no sense in even completing high school, because college seemed unattainable. Many dropped out.
“Look what happened when I had the opportunity,” she said. “When we talk about the need to diversify Oregon’s teaching force so we can better reach all kids – they are talking about me.”
While not all people who are undocumented at Latino, and not all Latino people are undocumented, there is a persistent educational achievement gap for Latino students.
More than 40 percent of Latinos in Oregon have earned less than a high school diploma, compared to only 9 percent of their white counterparts.
Additionally, only 23 percent of Latinos have some college or Associate Degree, only 12 percent have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. These numbers compare to 36 percent and 31 percent for their white counterparts, respectively.
“Oregon needs to pass Senate Bill 1563 to keep these opportunities alive, so young people have a reason to finish high school and have an opportunity to meet their potential,” she finished. “We just want to find the chance to do what we were meant to do.”
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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