April 1, 2012

Making the DREAM Reality

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Last month, an undocumented immigrant made public the struggle that he and other undocumented students face at Cornell. He and other undocumented students are not eligible to receive state or federal financial aid and are left to finance their educations on their own. The support this student received both from students and staff was inspiring, and we hope to see efforts to support undocumented students continue. Eric Hyun Jae Cheon ’12, the undocumented student who made his situation public, brought the issue to the forefront. In February, when he was one week away from being forced to unenroll from Cornell for being unable to pay his tuition, he asked the Cornell community to help him finance the remainder of his education. The community stepped in and raised $10,000. The challenge that Cheon faced to stay in college is one that many undocumented students across the country share. Many undocumented students come to the U.S. as children and are the products of the U.S. primary and secondary education system. As a result, these undocumented students may identify more as Americans than they do with their country of origin. It is unfair to deny them the same access to higher education that is available to their classmates; they were likely too young to have a say in their family’s decision to go to the United States. They are in this situation through no fault of their own.  These undocumented college students work hard to earn college degrees, not only completing regular coursework, but also working to pay for their education. Cheon is just one example. He works 30 to 40 hours per week while taking five engineering classes. Financing one’s education independently requires an unflappable work ethic and an unwavering desire to succeed — exactly the skills that are needed in the American economy. Assisting these students is difficult. Cornell may never know how many undocumented Cornellians there are, and it is difficult to provide assistance when the individuals are not always able to come forward. However, it is heartening that Cornell is exploring these options. President David Skorton has made serious efforts to address the issue, testifying before Congress about comprehensive immigration reform. His administration is currently looking into ways of providing financial assistance outside of federal and state aid.The efforts made by Cornell provide temporary relief. However, New York State must ratify the New York Dream Act, which would open the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to all students who meet the funding criteria, irrespective of their immigration status. This piece of legislation helps to remedy the marginalization that these undocumented students face and allows hard-working individuals the chance to succeed. This action on the state level would be a step in the right direction. With progress on this issue at Cornell and in New York State, the federal government may finally be compelled to take action.