The Voice of Asian America
Beleza Chan, Oct 13, 2008
Picture an undocumented student, and the first image to pop up is unlikely to be an Asian one.
Yet a recent report by the University of California Office of the President revealed that 40 to 44 percent of undocumented students in the UC system are Asian. This is definitely not “a Mexican thing,” which is how one undocumented student characterized the Asian community’s dismissive views towards undocumented immigration.
“People will ask you: ‘Are you AB 540? Because obviously you are not Latina,’” explains Tam, a 24-year-old of Vietnamese descent who recently graduated from UCLA (the last names of the undocumented students in this article have been withheld to protect their identities).
The 2001 state law AB 540 lowers the cost of tuition at California public universities for students who attended a high school in the state for at least three years. According to the UC Office of the President, over 1,639 students have benefited from AB 540; out of those, 1,200 were legal residents or citizens.
Out-of-state students attending California colleges filed a suit in 2005 challenging the law, objecting to the state’s practice of allowing illegal immigrants to pay significantly lower tuition than they pay. The suit was dismissed by the Yolo County Superior Court in 2006.
But on September 15, the Court of Appeal in Sacramento issued a ruling that challenges AB 540 on the grounds that it contradicts federal law, which holds that states cannot grant educational benefits based on residency.
But life continues for those who have made it to college. Faced with financial burdens and legal concerns in addition to the normal college student worries about classes and career, today’s unexpected and overlooked Asian undocumented students are screaming for help.
Tam came to the U.S. when she was six years old, and like many Americans, she wanted to go to college. Although undocumented students come from low-income families, they are not eligible for any kind of state or federal financial aid. Tam needed her parents’ help to pay for school, but she refused to ask.
“My major was English and I did not want to deal with ‘We’re paying for your education, so you will have to study what we want,’” explained Tam, who paid for school with money from work and private scholarships.
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