By Yenimar Cortes
What’s the craziest thing you did over spring break? I’m sure that question leads into many memorable stories. Let me start mine by introducing myself. My name is Yenimar Cortes, I am eighteen years old and I recently changed my major from biology to political science. I am also part of Connecticut Students for a Dream, a youth-led organization across the State that empowers, educates and advocates for immigrants’ rights. The craziest thing I did over this spring break was share with Connecticut legislators that I am one of the many undocumented students that live in Connecticut today. You’re probably asking yourself now, “Why would she do that? And why does it matter?” I did it to help undocumented students in Connecticut receive access to institutional aid, education equity, and help them afford college to accomplish their goals.
I arrived to Connecticut at the age of two with my older sister who has always been my role model. Like many undocumented students my senior year was the hardest year. That year most undocumented students discover that they are barred from many financial help and that all your efforts in high school could be meaningless. After senior year most undocumented students find themselves in very difficult situations. Some work two to four jobs trying to pay for school and others are never full-time students. Unfortunately, many students skip semesters trying to make ends meet. The costs of attending school to seek a higher education come with an overwhelmingly intimidating obstacle, financially. The impact of financial aid could be the difference between a student succeeding or regrettably dropping out of college. The latter is as of yet the inevitable outcome for undocumented students because we are ineligible to receive financial aid. To graduate from college and be undocumented is something almost impossible; according to the Migration Policy Institute only about 1% of undocumented students actually graduate college.
Yenimar at a rally supporting better policies for education. Source: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com
Although it seems hopeless, it is not. Many organizations led by powerful undocumented youth are leading campaigns that propose pieces of legislation that bring equality and equity. One of the many is the Afford to Dream Campaign led by Connecticut Students for a Dream. Currently we have two proposed bills, Senate Bill 17 and House Bill 7000. Institutional aid is student-generated funds that are set aside to be given to help students, based on financial need. Everyone who pays school tuition, including undocumented students, contribute to this fund. However, the same fund readily supports all students except the undocumented because they cannot fill out the FAFSA. These proposed pieces of legislation only ask that undocumented students have access to apply to that fund that they contribute to, so that they will be able to afford college and accomplish their goals.
The fight for undocumented students to have access to institutional aid has been long and hard. This year marks the fourth year in which we fight to pass this “Afford to Dream” legislation. Last year it made it past the Higher Education committee and Senate floor with bipartisan vote but it was not brought up to the House floor and we once again lost a battle. Although it has been a tough and exhausting four years we have and never will lose hope.
Last week during our campaign’s week of action, both undocumented youth and allies alike gathered together and numbered 50 to venture out to the Legislative Building to advocate for the proposed legislation. Together we watched as both bills were voted out of the Higher Education Committee. Following that, we spent half the day talking to legislators, giving them fact sheets and graduation caps to symbolize that we only desire to be able to afford to graduate from higher education. We spent the other half of the day having a sit-in in the legislative building’s lobby, while holding signs that showed the future occupations we aspire to have. The next day we learned about institutional racism and education and what we can do to dismantle it. All the support that was shown during our week of action helped prove to legislators how much people want and need this proposed legislation to pass. At the end of these two days we all were left exhausted, but filled with much power and passion to keep advocating passage of these bills.
After the week of action, I thought about the impact legislation can have on the lives of millions of people to shape people’s lives for better or worse and shape the way society looks. If SB 17 and HB 7000 pass this will change the lives of countless undocumented students in Connecticut for the better. These students will be able to afford going to college and won’t have to kill themselves for years to chase this dream. Like this legislation, we the people also have so much power to demand what is right. The only way things will change is if we raise our voice to demand it. I changed my major from biology to political science because I want to help shape society into a better place for every individual, no matter who they are. The politics of today seem to be more concerned over who has more power instead of focusing on making people’s life better. We are the future of the political world so my question to you is, why are you a political science major?
“IN LAK’ECH You are my other me, If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.” (Mayan Greeting Tradition).”