One of the first questions people always ask me in regards to my work with SAAVY is, “What issues are important to South Asian American youth?” “What issues are important to South Asian American youth?”In surveys our organizers took of the South Asian youth (18-25 yr.) community during the 2004 elections where we asked “What issues are important to how you will vote?” the top three were, 1) The war in Iraq, 2) healthcare and 3) economy. Though these were issues that influenced them on how they voted, it is interesting to note how it is different from a survey taken earlier where we asked “What issues are important to you as a South Asian American?” Our results showed that the top 5 issues, in no particular order, were 1) racial profiling 2) hate crimes, 3) affirmative action 4) globalization and 5) cost of education.
The cost of education has been a big topic in the news recently, and is an important issue to most of the youth I talk to. I know I can’t be the only one affected by the recent hike in interest rate of federal student loans.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) introduced bills before the Easter recess that would halt the scheduled July 1 increase in interest rates for federally subsidized student loans, reducing the fixed rate from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Miller and Durbin last week helped launch a coordinated grassroots campaign aimed at promoting the bill among college students and their parents… Durbin and Miller’s “raid” refers to the $12.5 billion cut in student aid programs passed earlier this year as part of budget reconciliation, but Keller said the bulk of the cuts hit banks and other lenders in the pocket, not students. [link]
Here we are fighting for a decrease in the federal student loan interest rate, but what about undocumented immigrant students out there that don’t even have access to apply for federal aid? For them, we have the DREAM Act.
Of the estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants in this country, approximately 1 million come from Asia. Most South Asians in the United States are unaware of the number of undocumented people in our community and the obstacles they face. [link]
Two bills recently introduced in Congress seek radically different outcomes for undocumented U.S. residents…A provision in the Senate bill, called the DREAM Act, would allow some undocumented residents to qualify for legal residency if they arrived in this country before age 16 and at least five years before the bill’s enactment. [link]
p>I’ve recently been reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where ideas of education as a civil right, not as privilege, are expounded. Everyone should have the right to be educated and here in the U.S. we do, at least through high school. But should the line of privilege be drawn at college? Sure, some would say that is what we have a college admissions process for, and for the people that can’t afford it, we have community colleges. But what about the undocumented immigrants that don’t have the privilege to access even that? SAALT reports that some of the challenges these immigrants may face are difficulty in paying tuition because their parents are not allowed to work, being ineligible for state financial aid, and being forced to pay expensive out-of-state tuition. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants to at least compete for financial aid and receive in-state tuition.
Here in California, State Senator Cedillo is at the forefront of SB 160, known as the California Dream Act, hearing date June 6, 2006. As of this month, the three largest higher education institutions in the state, California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California support these efforts.
This bill would require the community colleges, California State Universities, and request to the University of California, to establish forms and procedures that will enable “AB 540″ students to apply and compete for all student aid programs administered by these segments. This bill would also allow AB 540 students to receive the community college BOG Fee Waiver. [link]
I think this is a huge step. Currently 8 other states have passed legislation that expand students’ access to higher education and 21 other states are considering legislation affecting the access. As in most legislations, what happens in states can influence federal legislation. Of course, what happens with HR 4437 in the next month will have a direct effect on how things with the DREAM Act will be played out at the federal level.
Having the right to access higher education, whether it be for documented students to have a lower student loan interest rate, or for undocumented students to apply for financial aid, is an issue that impacts almost all South Asian American youth these days. I highly encourage you, my fellow mutineers, to at least learn, if not take action, on both legislation.