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College Will Be ‘a Possibility For Me and Many Others’: Vermont Immigrants Celebrate Following Higher Education Win

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Vermont has joined the slate of states giving young people, regardless of immigration status, a fairer shot at achieving their higher education goals. “Education Equity for Immigrant Students,” signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Scott last week, ensures that Vermont residents, including Dreamers, have access to in-state tuition rates and need-based financial aid when at public colleges and universities. 

“New Americans have been through so much before getting to Vermont, and this bill will help to expand opportunities for them by furthering their education and training for new skills that lead to good paying jobs,” said Gov. Scott. “At a time where we continue to see our population getting older, and our workforce declining, we need to do everything we can to reverse these trends and support good careers for all Vermonters.”

The bill was initiated by Migrant Justice (which has also been a champion for dairy workers in the state) and boosted by state and community colleges, immigrant community members, and impacted individuals, who in recent days rallied at the Vermont State House to urge Gov. Scott to sign the legislation. Migrant Justice said a host of other organizations supported the proposal, including the Vermont Human Rights Commission, the Center for Justice Reform of the Vermont Law and Graduate School, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, just to name a few.

“I am here on behalf of all those students who had to end their education after high school and cut short their dreams,” Heidy Perez Alfaro, an 11th grader at Milton High School, said according to Migrant Justice. “With this law, they will be able to go to college, study for a profession, and help others.” 

For Migrant Justice member and dairy worker Olga Cruz, the new law represents an exciting new opportunity. “When I got my GED three years ago and looked into continuing my studies, I was shocked by the cost and knew I would never be able to afford college without help,” she said. “With this new law, higher education becomes a possibility for me and many others.”

While Vermont’s immigrant population is small (comprising about five percent of the population, according to the American Immigration Council), their work has been and remains critical to the state’s dairy industry. “Nobody took a break from milking cows during COVID,” Migrant Justice’s Will Lambek told Vermont Public in March. “They worked through putting their health and their lives at risk. And if their work is deemed essential, then their rights should be deemed essential as well.”

The education equity bill wasn’t the only common sense proposal passed by Vermont in recent weeks. Last month, the governor signed a bill to “grant professional licenses to people who meet the requirements, regardless of their immigration status, in a move supporters hope will ease Vermont’s labor shortage,” NECN reported.

“We all know the challenges of our shrinking workforce and the need to maximize our state’s economic potential by employing professionals in occupations that best align with their skills and training, regardless of their immigration status,” said state Sen. Becca White. Earlier this year, Washington state similarly opened professional licenses to eligible undocumented residents. It’s smart policy when professional fields in the state, such as nursing, face major labor shortages.

Back in Vermont, the state’s education equity bill is expected to go into effect next year and comes at a critical time. Last year, the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrant youth who graduated from high school couldn’t apply for protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and are at risk of missing out on the same professional and educational opportunities available to their U.S.-born peers, one report found.

The education equity bill “is a reminder that there are young people in our state that grew up here, attended Vermont schools, or came as teenagers to work on dairy farms, or came seeking asylum due to violence in their country of origin,” said Rep. Leonora Dodge, one of the bill’s main sponsors. “They call Vermont home, and we are so lucky to have them.”

RELATED: Massachusetts Is Closer Than Ever To Expanding In-State Tuition Rates To More Local Dreamers

Nearly 100,000 Undocumented Students Who Graduated From High School Last Year Can’t Apply for DACA

State of Washington Opens Professional Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants, In Boon to Local Workforces and Economy