Children of undocumented immigrants could get college help in Delaware

A bill that would offer in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented aliens has been introduced for action in the Delaware General Assembly.

Yessenia Tolentino is a junior at the University of Delaware, whose parents legally emigrated into the United States, but she also has many friends whose parents were undocumented immigrants. 

“I have seen the kinds of hurdles and discrimination then face,” Tolentino said. 

Now the coordinator of the Delaware “DREAM Team,” Tolentino said she is hopeful Delaware becomes one more state that is taking action to give children of immigrants a reason to pursue their education.

At a news conference held at Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center, Tolentino said she is also hopeful for a national DREAM Act, which she believes “would allow millions of undocumented youth, who are known as ‘dreamers,’ to be able to pursue their education, to be able to pursue their dreams, to pursue what their parents brought them here to achieve.”  

The First State’s version of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), would also allow such students to qualify for the existing SEED and Inspire scholarship programs that allow students to more affordably attend the University of Delaware, Delaware State University or Delaware Technical and Community College.  To qualify, a student would have to have attended a Delaware public or private high school for at least three years.  He or she also must meet admission requirements of the college or university, and must have a record free of any felony convictions.

The Inspire program covers two years of tuition at DSU.  The SEED program allows qualified students to attend DTCC free for a technical degree or take part in its parallel program for an associate’s degree from UD.

According to LACC Executive Director Maria Matos, about 13-percent of Delaware’s children are Latino.  “Many of these youth are graduating at the top of their class,” Matos said.

The bill’s lead sponsors are Senator Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, and Representative Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South.  “Education is a big key to succeeding in this country and we shouldn’t deny young people who want to succeed here because their parents decided to come to this country illegally to give them a chance at a better life,” Marshall said.

The sponsors believe they could be in for a battle to get the legislation passed, as the immigration debate plays out nationally on the political stage.  “Regardless of your  feelings on immigration, I think everyone can agree that it is unfair to punish children who are brought to this country illegally by preventing them from receiving an education,” Keeley said. 

Representative Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek), who is Hispanic, also spoke in favor of the bill.  “A well-educated society is the best means to upward mobility,” Miro said.

If approved, Delaware would become the 12th state to pass a version of the DREAM Act.

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