Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Refugees Lobbying For Increased College Aid

Immigrants from Southeast Asia and Africa will push legislature to increase college aid program for minorities.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Feb 8th, 2015 01:58 pm
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Citizenship students in the Older Refugee Program at Neighborhood House, with instructor Crystal Custalow, right. (Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee)

Citizenship students in the Older Refugee Program at Neighborhood House, with instructor Crystal Custalow, right. (Photo courtesy of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee)

Refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa will travel to Madison on Feb. 10 to speak with state legislators about expanding a three-decade old college aid program for minorities.

The delegation is made up of members from the International Learning Center, an educational program of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee. They will meet with Sen. Chris Larson and Rep. Evan Goyke.

ILC delegates are advocating for expansion of the Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant to include all refugees. The current program, which went into effect in 1985, only applies to “a student who is either an African American; American Indian; Hispanic; or Southeast Asian from Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam admitted to the U.S. after December 31, 1975.”

Hram Lian Kulu, an ILC student from Burma, spurred the trip to the capital. He tried applying for the grant during his first year in college, but noticed that he was not eligible. Reforming the program is a way to recognize the presence of multiple minority groups in Wisconsin, Kulu said.

“I hope to bring attention to this issue that refugees are here and are still coming into the state,” Kulu said. “We would like the same opportunities as other groups of people in a country we plan to make our home as citizens.”

Recipients must be enrolled in the Wisconsin Technical College System, a nonprofit independent college/university or a tribal college. During the 2013-14 academic year, 877 students received aid from the grant program, ranging from $250 to $2,500 per year.

Crystal Custalow, citizenship instructor at ILC, noted that the visit to Madison is an important step for the group as they work toward U.S. citizenship. It is an opportunity for ILC students to participate in the kinds of democratic processes taught in the ILC citizenship program.

“Real empowerment comes from advocating and speaking for oneself and one’s community,” Custalow said. “This is an opportunity for refugees to speak in a personal way in support of legislation that can make a difference in their futures and their children’s futures.”

Taw Taw, a refugee from the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand, sees this as a chance to understand U.S. democracy outside of the classroom.

“I want to learn how leaders help the people in America,” Taw Taw said. “I want to know if they can help us change the grant so that more people can get more education.”

Goyke, who represents the 18th District, said he is inspired by the group’s mission.

“I’m proud to represent many of these individuals,” Goyke said via email. “Each has … a desire to create a bright future for their families and children. I look forward to hearing their ideas and charting a path for us to work together throughout the legislative session and beyond.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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