City College OKs Paid Internships for Undocumented and Low-Income Students

Threatened by actions taken in 1990? Photo from 2011.

Threatened by actions taken in 1990? Photo from 2011.

En Español.

For the first time, undocumented and low-income students attending City College in San Francisco will have access to paid internships.

The San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees approved a new budget late last month that includes a measure to provide low-income and undocumented students with scholarships for community internship positions.

The budget also adds $200,000 to the pool of scholarship money for City College students. That money will go to low-income and undocumented interns who take an extra course.

This is the first time that scholarship funds for internships — once considered an adjunct to a college education, but now increasingly necessary for post-college employment — will be available to undocumented students.

Just a few weeks ago, a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown opened up private funds to undocumented students. The second portion of the same bill, currently awaiting Brown’s approval, will give undocumented students access to state scholarships.

According to the board of trustees, the new measure will not create any conflict with state or federal laws. Funding for the new program will come from district trust funds, though it is unclear how the board will access the money.

It has not yet been determined how many students will be eligible to participate in the scholarships, or what the payout amount will be. The Office of Mentoring and Service Learning reports that more than 10 nonprofits are ready to hire students, but details of the new program have yet to be finalized.

Elsa Ramos, 20, was among the dozens of students to speak in support of the new measure during the public comments portion of the monthly meeting on Thursday.

“I really like that almost everybody on the board was on our side already,” said Ramos, who is a third-year student at City College. “I feel really accomplished and really proud of everyone that spoke and made it happen.”

Most students supporting the new program are undocumented. It is known as AB 540 in reference to the bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, that makes undocumented students in California eligible for in-state tuition after they complete at least three years of high school here. They must also sign an affidavit of their intent to legalize their residency status, but this provision has little meaning, as few can become legal residents.

Approval of the new internship money was widely applauded.

“I am so, so happy. I’m just thrilled; I feel like this was a victory for the students,” said Leticia Silva, a counselor for the Latino Services Network.

There was some opposition from fellow students, however, who shared their concern that an internship open to AB 540 students would soon be labeled as an exclusive scholarship, creating divisions between AB 540 students and the rest of the student body.

“This should not be controversial,” said Steve Ngo, a board trustee, in response to the opposition. Although Ngo was booed by some at the meeting, he continued to encourage his fellow board members to vote in favor of the new budget.

“This amendment will not just encourage and foster community service and service learning and mentoring for all students — all are eligible — but it will also give a chance to those students who are eligible for this competitive process, who happen to be AB 540, to get something,” said Ngo.

Edher Zamuizo also disagreed with the criticism of the program.

“It’s hard when you can’t get tuition,” said Zamuizo, 22, who is an undocumented transfer student currently attending San Francisco State University. Zamuizo has excelled despite the lack of public funds available to him, and he hopes that the new measure will be able to help those who have not been as lucky.

“I am doing this to support my friends,” he said. Ramos, Zamuizo and other students are hopeful that concerns about the program will be allayed by further education about the internships and how they will work.

The application process and internship program is expected to be available to students in January 2012.

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One Comment

  1. We support any funding of internships for college students.

    An internship is essential to building your network and gaining relevant skills prior to entering the job market after graduation.

    That’s going to be especially true for students coming from low-income backgrounds. I know, because that’s where I started.

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