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NEW YORK NEW YORK: West Indian educational challenge

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK: West Indian educational challenge

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Many youthful Bajans and other West Indians across the United States are asking the same question: whatever happened to the Dream Act?
It’s a measure, drafted years ago to give undocumented immigrants a chance to achieve their dream of getting a college or university degree. But it has languished in Congress in Washington, largely because the anti-immigration zealots in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington wouldn’t allow it to be put to a vote.
“I would really like to see it passed, so my son can afford to go to college,” said a Bajan mother in Queens. “Perhaps we may see some action at the state level.”
Indeed, some states are moving to implement its provisions in a piecemeal fashion, thus offering illegal immigrants a glimmer of hope.
California, with large Hispanic and Caribbean populations, is farthest along the road. A few days ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a provision that allows undocumented immigrant students to become eligible for financial aid at public educational institutions.
Let’s say a Barbadian, Guyanese, Mexican or Trinidadian in California wants to apply for financial aid. To be eligible they must maintain good grades; must have attended a high school there for at least three years; and sign an affidavit stating they are working to achieve legal status.
New York, which has the largest single concentration of West Indians of any North American city, is moving in the same direction.
The New York State Board of Regents has agreed unanimously to call on the State legislature – the Assembly and the Senate – to allow illegal immigrant students full access to financial aid through the Tuition Assistance Programme or TAP, which provides students with grants of up $5 000.
But the state’s lawmakers would have to consent, which the board is now urging them to do.
In Florida, where the second largest West Indian community lives, State Representative Reggie Fullwood, a Democrat of Jacksonville, has introduced  legislation to end the practice of forcing legal residents to pay expensive out-of-state tuition at colleges and universities in the state.
As it stands, students who are legal residents by virtue of being born in the United States but whose parents remain undocumented immigrants are required to pay the higher out-of-state tuition, even if they have lived in Florida all of their lives.
Alabama too, has joined the immigration and education debate. A federal appeals court has blocked school authorities from verifying the immigration status of students enrolled in public schools in Alabama. The verification requirement was part of a tough and wrong-headed immigration law aimed at forcing foreign-born residents who are in the country illegally to look for someplace to live.
Bajans at home should count their lucky stars, as well as the taxpayers and successive governments which have provided tuition free tertiary level education to students who meet the basic entry requirements.