The children of immigrants have a unique life perspective. They understand that their parents traveled from their countries of origin to the US in order to create a better, fuller life for them. Immigrant parents want their children to strive for the “American Dream."
Attending college is the traditional path to
making this dream a reality, but one Latina’s chances were taken away when she was
denied financial aid twice because of her mother’s immigration status.
Natalia Villalobos, a 19-year-old who was born and raised in Washington, DC, has teamed up with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to sue the capital for denying her help from the District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG).
The program provides DC-natives with up to $10,000 to attend public colleges and universities. The reason for her denial? Her mother has Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and is not a permanent resident or US citizen.
TPS is given to people who can’t return to their home countries because of natural disasters, armed conflict, or other situations. Villalobos’ mother gained TPS around 2001 after El Salvador was hit with an earthquake.
The Salvadoran woman has legally lived, worked, and paid taxes in the US for 20 years, but that wasn’t enough for her daughter to get financial aid.
Villalobos told NBC News:
“It’s not fair to get discriminated as a US citizen because of my mom’s status.”
According to Burth Lopez, an attorney with MALDEF, the 19-year-old should be eligible to get up to $2,500 a year from the federal program to help pay her college’s $4,000 semesters.
She told WJLA about her reaction to being denied:
“That’s the goal of basically any American, to go to college so they can have a better life. I was shocked because I’m a US citizen. I was born and raised in DC and I shouldn’t be treated different from anyone else.”
The prospective college student graduated from DC’s Emerson Preparatory High School in 2015 and had plans to attend Montgomery College in Maryland, where she would study business management and child development to open a day care in the future.
But she had to delay these plans because she couldn’t afford college on her own.
Villalobos told The Washington Post:
“Why shouldn’t I have a choice, too. I’m entitled to the same choices as everyone else who lives in DC, went to high school in DC and graduated in DC.”
In the lawsuit, Lopez argues that DCTAG guidelines discriminate against US citizens like Villalobos by stating that parents must be permanent residents or US citizens.
He told WJLA:
“That’s illegal, that’s unconstitutional. This is an issue about how we are treating Latinos and immigrants and those that we consider different form the mainstream.”
In the two years since graduating high school, Villalobos has saved up money from working in retail and administration as well as being a dog walker and trainer.
She will begin summer classes while she waits for DCTAG to make a decision.
But Villalobos wasn’t only thinking about herself when she began working with MALDEF to sue DC. She told The Washington Post:
“My little sister graduates high school this year. If something doesn’t change, she’ll be in the same situation as me. That just can’t happen.”