An illegal immigrant who applied to Trident Technical College this week will not be eligible for state or federal financial aid, according to school officials.
Israel Ortega, 27, of North Charleston, is an illegal immigrant who was granted a temporary stay in the United States through the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. That cleared the way for him to apply at Trident.
On Tuesday, Ortega walked up to the admissions window at the school’s North Charleston campus on Rivers Avenue and submitted his application. A few weeks earlier, Ortega had attempted the same thing, but he was turned away by school officials who said state law restricted him from attending the school.
Enrollment officials had pointed to the state’s Illegal Immigration Reform Act, which bans people who are in the country illegally from attending and benefiting from public institutions such as Trident.
This week, the state’s Commission on Higher Education offered the school clarification, school spokesman David Hansen said. The commission gave Trident the green light to enroll DACA students who qualify for admissions, he said.
It’s a move that made Ortega’s former Stall High School global studies teacher, Gail Auld, proud. “He was just one of the brightest stars of my day every single day. He was so polite and kind,” she said.
Auld, who is now retired, said she taught Ortega between 2003 and 2004 and watched him struggle at first. “Israel had a horrible time reading. He didn’t speak much English,” she said. “He would just trudge through his homework.”
Auld said Ortega fought hard to get the most out of his education. “He wanted to do well. He wanted to learn and graduate from high school,” she said. “Kids like that, you just want to do anything you can for.”
Despite the cleared pathway for Ortega’s application to Trident Tech, he and any other DACA recipients who later enroll in the school will not be eligible for financial assistance, according to Hansen.
Those potential students cannot receive state-supported scholarship and grant funds such as S.C. lottery-funded tuition assistance.
The U.S. Department of Education has informed the school that those students don’t meet the criteria for eligible non-citizen status, so federal aid also is unavailable to them, Hansen said.
The DACA recipients who enroll in the college will have to pay out-of-state tuition, according to Hansen. Out-of-state tuition for a full-time student is $3,499.40 per semester.
Diana Salazar, founder of the Latino Association of Charleston, who protested the school’s initial refusal of Ortega’s application, said they are aware of the financial aid restrictions. “When he applied, school officials explained everything to him,” she said.
For now, she said she doesn’t have a problem with it.
Salazar said about 10 other students who are DACA recipients will likely apply for admission at Trident.
Hansen also pointed out that Trident Tech did not independently make the decision about DACA recipients’ enrollment. The rule applies to all colleges and universities in South Carolina, he said.
What is DACA?
On June 15 the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that people who came to the United States as children and met certain guidelines may request consideration to stay in the country for at least two years. Those who qualify would then be eligible for work authorization.
Among other things, the guidelines require that applicants must have entered the U.S. before his or her 16th birthday, have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, and have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors. The application fee is $465.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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