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Tuition reimbursed for undocumented CUNY students

CUNY gave thousands of dollars back to undocumented students who have been overpaying their tuition.

Upon admission to the school, many undocumented students were uninformed they should have been charged in-state tuition, Lorena Carino, president of Queens College Dream Team, said.

“It’s good they’re doing that, they should have never taken that money from us,” Carino, a junior, said.

For some time, the Dream Team campaigned for the approval of the New York State Dream Act, which allows undocumented youth to gain access to financial aid. However, opposing sides believed the tax money should only benefit the documented students.

“It’s not like they’re giving us this money and that’s it. No, we’re giving back,” Carino said. “There are a lot of undocumented people that [pay] taxes. People don’t know this.”

In Governor Cuomo’s Education Tax Credit budget plan, which focuses on K-12, the New York State Dream Act and TAP are bundled together. Cuomo proposed that unless both acts pass, no one would be eligible for TAP, Tiffany Brown, a QC alum and project coordinator for NYPIRG, said.

“For some people, they look at that as a power move,” Brown said. “That this is just a way to put both sides together because people who have been advocating the New York State Dream Act have been against the Educational Tax Credit and vice versa.”

However, the Dream Team, along with the teacher’s union and students, held rallies to make a stand against Cuomo’s proposal.

“We’re trying to [plan] rallies where we tell Cuomo, ‘you put them together, that’s messed up, but we’re still fighting together,’” Carino said. “We’re not going to go play political games.” “We’re just saying, you can’t play politics just like that,” Brown said. “You can’t put college students at risk. They’re not political pawns.”

The Dream Team hosted their annual Undocumented Open Mic on March 18. Undocumented students shared their testimonies on the hardships they faced through storytelling, poetry or performance, on March 18.

The purpose of the event was to empower the students to overcome their fear by speaking out as they received support from the audience, Carino said.

A speaker at the event, Priscilla Lee-Chung, a senior, decided to attend QC over a private college because of her status.

Before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants to receive work permits and social security, Lee worked several off-the-book jobs to pay for school. Some of these jobs were very uncomfortable, she said.

“I had to massage an old man and it wasn’t as legit as I thought it to be. It was a bit creepy,” Lee said.

Unable to afford the tuition, Lee took two semesters off, including the current semester, to work and save up.

Lee joined the Dream Team after hearing about it from her best friend. Despite her initial fears and discomfort, Lee found refuge in the group.

“The Dream Team was everything I wanted it to be. Everything that we say that we are, we are a resource, we are a safe space, we are a family,” Lee said.

The group continues to be a resource and a safe space for undocumented students by raising awareness.

“There shouldn’t be a fear [about] their status, because that’s just a status. That doesn’t define them,” Carino said.

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