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Editorial: USAC fund for undocumented students is just 1st step toward accessibility

By Daily Bruin Staff

March 4, 2021 12:02 p.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council is well known for having a large amount of funds.

However, for once, USAC is considering using those funds to support undocumented students who have lost work authorization in the UCLA community.

They considered the proposal during their meeting Feb. 23 to use the surplus funds to pay council members who are undocumented and cannot be employed under Associated Students UCLA as paid members. These students would be paid directly through financial aid.

Currently, undocumented students would be registered as student volunteers because they cannot be employed without work authorization.

The council has previously been encouraged to use the surplus funds to support students, and this is an important step toward increasing accessibility in student government.

But it’s a shame that the fund’s proposal only came as a response to 2019-2020 External Vice President Johana Guerra Martinez going seven weeks without being paid early last year.

It is now important to see whether these promises will be fulfilled.

USAC voted March 2 in favor of the creation of the fund, which would allocate $23,000 from the USAC surplus funds – the equivalent to two council members’ yearly stipends.

But this payment alternative brings its own myriad issues.

While being able to pay undocumented students without DACA is a victory overall, diverting that money to them through financial aid comes with its own host of problems. The USAC stipend is meant to be a paycheck: usable for whatever the student sees fit. Should stipends get paid through BruinBill, they may be automatically applied toward the remaining balance, stripping financial control from students.

And though it’s worth celebrating USAC’s creation of space for undocumented students, the University of California system as a whole lacks in support for its undocumented students.

There is no UC-wide program ensuring undocumented students can still be paid for their work on campus. UC campuses provide financial aid to undocumented students, but each campus differs in how much money is available or how many students they can pay.

Diverting stipends to scholarships is a Band-Aid on a larger, UC-wide problem, but at the very least, it makes USAC more accessible where it wasn’t previously.

USAC has an obligation to fight for the rights of the student body – fighting for accessibility within their own ranks is only the first step.

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