Campus site of AB 540 conference

Photo: Many undocumented high school and transfer students, parents and teachers flocked to UC Berkeley for the fourth annual 'Achieving Your Dreams' AB 540 Conference.
Randy Adam Romero/Photo
Many undocumented high school and transfer students, parents and teachers flocked to UC Berkeley for the fourth annual 'Achieving Your Dreams' AB 540 Conference.

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Brenda Castillo, 16, came to the United States with her family when she was 13 years old.

In Mexico, she had lived with her grandmother and cousin, and her single mother had baked tortillas to support Castillo and her two siblings. Castillo said her mother brought her children to the United States "so she could be proud of us."

An aspiring pediatrician, Castillo hopes to be the first in her family to attend college and act as role model for her younger brother and sister.

So on Saturday, she woke up at 5 a.m. to drive with several dozen classmates and chaperones from Peter Johansen High School in Modesto to attend the fourth annual "Achieving Your Dreams" AB 540 Conference at UC Berkeley.

Along with the 350 other undocumented high school and transfer students, parents, teachers and counselors in attendance throughout the day, Castillo came to learn about the resources available for undocumented students attending public California universities.

In particular, she came to learn about Assembly Bill 540 - legislation passed in 2001 exempting undocumented students who fulfill certain requirements from paying nonresident tuition. Castillo and others at the conference received packets containing a wealth of information on how to register as an AB 540 student, how to find scholarships that do not require social security information, W-7 forms to request a taxpayer identification number and extensive advice on financial aid.

The conference began with a speaker series featuring Maria Leticia Gomez, an anchorwoman for Univision 14 News, who told the assembled students her story of immigrating to the United States as a child.

Gomez also placed the conference in the context of a statewide debate over the price of higher education for undocumented immigrants. She referred to Assembly Bill 63, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, which was intended to repeal portions of AB 540, but failed last week in committee.

AB 63 would "delete a person without lawful immigration status from the exemption from paying nonresident tuition at the California Community Colleges and the California State University," and would request the UC Board of Regents to impose the same restrictions, according to the bill.

Donnelly's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Last month, Donnelly's colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Higher Education passed Assembly Bills 130 and 131, sponsored by Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. The bills would provide undocumented students who meet certain standards with access to institutional and state financial aid respectively, and Gov. Jerry Brown pledged to sign the bills if they came to his desk.

Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education - the campus student group that organized the conference - provided resources for parents and students to navigate an area where policy is heatedly debated. They also provided a free legal clinic and Spanish-language workshops for parents.

Castillo said she came away from the conference with newfound knowledge. She plans to put what she learned to use by applying to a four-year university to achieve the better future her mother envisioned three years ago.

"Even though (my mother) did not have an education, she wanted us to have an education for a better life," Castillo said.


Nina Brown covers higher education.

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