Seeking to close a gap undocumented students face in funding their education, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has proposed a new loan program for California's public universities.
Senate Bill 1210 would make available $9.2 million for University of California and California State University campuses to administer loans to undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid and most private loans.
"Many undocumented students still lack the financial wherewithal to pay for school," Lara said at a press conference Wednesday. Faced with an estimated financial aid gap of $5,000 to $6,000 at UC and $3,000 at CSU, "they are having to risk a withdrawal from college."
California has already taken several steps over the past 13 years to make college more affordable for undocumented students. In 2001, the Legislature extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who graduated from a California high school. Three years ago, it made them eligible to apply for Cal Grants.
But undocumented students at the press conference said that can still leave them thousands of dollars short to cover costs such as housing, books, transportation and food.
"Unfortunately, immigrant students like me sometimes need extra funds to pay for school, but we have nowhere to turn," said Deisy Caro, a recent Sacramento State transfer who said she worked while attending community college part-time for seven years to pay for her education.
Lara was joined at the event by Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez and UC President Janet Napolitano, who said the university "stands strongly behind this bill" to put undocumented students on equal footing with their peers.
"They have done everything right," Napolitano said. "It's about opportunity and it's about fairness."
Napolitano's support for the bill comes amid continuing controversy over the role she played in deporting undocumented immigrants as Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama.
Her appointment as UC president last fall was strongly opposed by campus immigration activists. UC Berkeley law students had planned another protest for Wednesday evening outside an event Napolitano was scheduled to attend.
"If you look at my record going back to when I was governor (of Arizona), I was always strongly in support of the DREAM Act," the deportation deferment for undocumented minors, Napolitano told The Bee following the press conference. "Those students don't know the whole story or the whole record."
PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara announcing SB 1210 to expand college financial aid for undocumenmted immigrants. He is joined, left to right, by UC Davis student Ana Maciel, UC President Janet Napolitano and Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez at the State Capitol on April 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.