Olga was brought to this country when she was 3 years old. Her only memories are of growing up in East L.A. Despite being afflicted by an incurable illness--Glanzmann's thrombasthenia--that caused her to be hospitalized throughout stretches of her childhood, she managed to become an honor student and was at the top of her high school class.
She received offers of admission to both UCLA and UC Berkeley. However, when she applied for in-state tuition as a resident of California, she was told she didn't qualify because her petition for immigration was still pending.
Public Counsel's efforts to improve the quality of life in our inner-city communities enable us to see firsthand how critical youth like Olga are to the future not only of these disadvantaged communities but to the stability of the social order that affects us all.
We witness the hard work that immigrant students have mustered to overcome the hardship of poverty to become valedictorians, athletes, artists and academic champions. They attend schools that lack books and other educational supplies, advanced placement classes and functional bathrooms, yet they manage to earn stellar grades and gain acceptance to top universities.
Like Olga, many have resided in California since early childhood but are treated as nonresidents for one reason alone: Through inaction of their parents or bureaucratic delay, they remain undocumented.
Our country was founded upon the notion that achievement should trump status. We pride ourselves in thinking that it is a fundamentally American trait to reward hard work, perseverance and self-sacrifice and to judge people upon their merits--not by whom their mother or father was.
And we try to protect children from mistakes not of their own making. There can be no cause more aligned with these ideals than a change in our law as proposed by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) that would grant immigrant students who have established residency in California the right to pay the same rate of tuition that other California residents pay.
The injustice of the out-of-state tuition requirement applies to students who are in the process of becoming lawful permanent residents. The immigration process is extremely long and complicated. Children may wait years for their green cards through a petition filed by their parents. Their parents are law-abiding, tax-paying California residents who contribute to the economy. They simply might not have had the means or access to lawyers to help them through the process. Other immigrants fled the civil wars in Central America and applied for political asylum. Many have been stuck in the quagmire of litigation that has been pending for almost 10 years. Yet, these immigrants and their children still wait for their green cards.
High-achieving immigrant children contribute to the quality of life in our inner-city communities by being model citizens who typically engage in significant volunteer activities and who aspire to significant achievements that benefit all of society. The adversity that they have had to overcome and their diverse backgrounds offer a richness to the quality of social commerce that benefits all college students. To the extent that they beat out lower performing nonimmigrant students on merit, isn't this delivering the merit-based performance standards that the public so demands?