Dreamers want eligibility for financial aid at colleges, universities

Edgardo Perez- Cabrera leads fellow New Milford High School adult- education graduates in 2013.
Edgardo Perez- Cabrera leads fellow New Milford High School adult- education graduates in 2013.Norm Cummings / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

They have been able to get driver’s licenses and in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Now the state’s Dreamers, who were born in other countries and have come of age with other millennials in Connecticut, want access to financial aid.

The Dreamers say it’s tough enough growing up as undocumented residents, and once they get into institutions of higher education they should be eligible for the same aid available to students who are U.S. citizens.

For Edgardo Perez-Cabrera, of New Milford, and Angelica Idrovo, of Danbury, the extra money could be the difference between working multiple jobs with little future and attending college.

“I am here and living my American dream, which is to attend college,” said the Guatamala-born Perez-Cabrera, 30, whose mother only attended school until second grade.

He came to the country at age 16, sent by his mother to avoid the gang violence in his troubled Central American country. Without citizenship papers, Perez-Cabrera has worked washing dishes and shoveling snow to support himself. But he has suspended his studies at the Danbury campus of Naugatuck Valley Community College because of the cost.

“I always knew that I was undocumented, inside me, but I never felt the struggle until I had to apply for scholarships and the universities and everything,” said Idrovo, 19, another Naugatuck Valley Community College student who was born in Ecuador, came to the U.S. when she was 12 and graduated from high school with honors.

While she was accepted at Western Connecticut State University, Idrovo and her family were unable to afford it. After this year, her third at NVCC, she will continue to work two jobs before finishing her bachelor’s degree elsewhere, she said.

“Institutional aid will be everything for me,” Idrovo said. “I will contribute to the community, I will contribute to this amazing country and you guys will help me.”

Perez, Idrovo and a dozen other Dreamers joined lawmakers and advocates in promoting legislation that would allow undocumented students to become eligible for so-called institutional aid for those with demonstrated financial needs. The amount varies from hundreds of dollars per semester to thousands of dollars.

“This is a call to action for the state of Connecticut to help support me and my battle for this aid,” said Joseline Tlamamulco, 18, a Mexican-born freshman at UConn. The new statewide effort, kicked off in a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, is called #AffordtoDream.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, recalled that the bill passed the Senate last year before stalling and dying on the House calendar. He’s hoping the bill moves forward during this legislative session, which runs through May 4.

“It is, in fact, an issue of equity,” said Looney, who has been instrumental in promoting legislation to give those without citizenship papers, who came to the country as children, opportunities for driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition.

“These are students who are paying tuition, who are making a contribution to their own education and, in equity, they should be able to draw on the pool of aid that is given to other students who have paid those fees and paid that tuition, because it is an investment in our future,” Looney said. “What we need is to continue to have the best-educated, the best-prepared workforce in the nation.”

kdixon@ctpost.com; Twitter: @KenDixonCT