“What are we supposed to do now that we’ve graduated?” said Juan Arroyo, a co-president of the club, during the ceremony. “We want to show that after graduation, we should have something to do,” said Arroyo, who is not an undocumented immigrant but supports expanding access to education for these students.
Students organized the event to raise awareness about the bind that undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school and try to enter college face: They aren’t eligible for federal or state financial aid that U.S. citizens use to help finance higher education, and even if they manage to pay for college, they can’t legally work after they finish school.
With the passage of California Assembly Bill 540 in 2001, undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements — like having attended high school in California for at least three years — are eligible to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state, said Greg Perkins, a counselor at Glendale Community College and a faculty advisor for Voces del Mañana.
But the cost of attending college can still be prohibitive for undocumented immigrants, Perkins said, because these students aren’t eligible to receive state or federal loans or grants because of their immigration status.
The financial strain can effectively end the students’ education at times, he said.
“Some of them drop out completely,” Perkins said.
Voces del Mañana, which was formed on the Glendale Community College campus in 2005, raises money for scholarships to help undocumented immigrants pay for college, and spreads the word about legislation that would help undocumented immigrants afford college and acquire legal residency status.
Before the mock graduation, members of a nonprofit organization called the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles discussed some of these pieces of legislation during a news conference at the college.
Members of the coalition and Voces del Mañana expressed their support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — or DREAM — Act, federal legislation that would give certain undocumented immigrants a path to legal immigration status.