AB 540 Students Lift Their VOICES

Agnes Constante

David Garcia was just two years old when he crossed the border. Having been raised in California virtually his entire life, Garcia has no memories whatsoever of his life in Mexico City.

Garcia currently resides in Canoga Park. A normal commute to Glendale College takes him approximately three hours on three different buses. If he had a choice he would drive to school. The only problem is that he can’t obtain a driver’s license because he doesn’t have a Social Security number.

Like an estimated 400 others at GCC, Garcia is an AB 540 student.

The AB 540 law, which passed in 2001 entitles undocumented students to resident tuition fees in California public colleges and universities given that they have attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated from a California high school or attained the equivalent (such as a GED) and completed an affidavit with the institution they are attending, stating that they are in the process of legalizing their immigration status or will legalize their status as soon as they are eligible to do so.

As undocumented immigrants, AB 540 students are ineligible for federal aid. The lack of financial aid for these students inspired the creation of Voices Organizing Immigrant Communities for Educational Success at GCC in 2005.

VOICES seeks to provide financial assistance to AB 540 students and to increase AB 540 awareness on campus.

The club’s co-adviser, Greg Perkins, estimated that 20 to 30 of its AB 540 members receive an average of $150 in VOICES scholarships each semester. These students may also qualify for the AB 540 Community Service Scholarship, the GCC Dream Scholarship, and the Book Assistance Program.

Though the club primarily serves AB 540 students, its members also include U.S. citizens and residents.

“There’s been quite a few that have not been AB 540 [students],” Perkins said of the club’s members. “But they’re very sympathetic. It’s really nice that these students feel so strongly that this is the right thing to do, that they work hard to raise money so that their fellow students who can’t get financial aid can get scholarships.?

Frank Luna, a new member to the club, is not an AB 540 student.

“I want to help people, immigrant [AB 540] students. They might come to college and not have the money for it. If they have the chance to get money for free, I want to help them,” he said.

Major efforts of the club are currently directed towards pushing forward the DREAM Act, legislation which would eventually provide AB 540 students a path to U.S. citizenship. It would also make financial aid available to these students.

VOICES is also affiliated with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and the California DREAM Network. Both organizations actively participate in measures to promote the DREAM Act.
VOICES also serves as a support group to AB 540 students.

Being without legal status is sometimes difficult for these students.
“I’ve been here since I was one year old. I practically grew up here, so I don’t know any other place,” sophomore Leticia Lopez said.

With many others in the same boat, AB 540 students are thankful to have people to fall back on.

“We didn’t only become a club, we became like a family. We know the trouble that everyone’s going through so we feel like we’re part of a family. There are a lot of people willing to help. You go to the club meetings and when it’s done, we actually get together on the weekends,” VOICES co-founder Omar Moreno said.

While unprecedented challenges lie ahead for these students in reaching their goals, Garica said the group will be unafraid in meeting those obstacles.

“There is that little fear because we are putting ourselves out there,” Garcia said of advocating issues important to AB 540 students. “But we’re out here letting you know that we exist and that we have needs and that there is a type of oppression that we have trouble with.”