After escaping brutal injustice in Guatemala, this 16 year old is fighting for financial aid equality.

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Hazel Mencos fled her home country of Guatemala because of its “epidemic” of violence against women.

“I was home alone and needed somebody who could stay with me in the night,” Hazel says, now 16 years old, as reported by the New Haven Independent. “My mom decided to send for me because in Guatemala it is very violent. Girls die from violence. Girls die from violation.”

She’s found the safety she deserves in the United States with her mom. However, when it comes to pursuing higher education, she’s facing another injustice: financial aid access.

Hazel Mencos testifying. (via CT-N and WNPR)

She can certainly pay her way through college if she wanted. But in Connecticut, a portion of her tuition would go toward financial aid funds for public colleges as well.

But because of her immigration status, she can’t apply for those funds.

So, she testified along with about 20 others this week to ask her local representatives this question:

If all students, regardless of citizen status, have to pay into the college’s financial aid system, shouldn’t all students, regardless of citizen status, be able to apply for that aid?

“Many people think we are asking for a handout, but in reality, we are only asking for that opportunity to access that pool of money,” said Jonathan Gonsalez Cruz, an undocumented student, as reported by WENY.

This issue has come up every year for the past four years at hearings of the Higher Education and Public Employment Advancement Committee at the Connecticut State Senate.

A new bill, HB5031, would ensure equal access to these student-generated funds.

There was not one testimony opposing the bill at this hearing. It bodes well for these Connecticut students looking for justice.

Kaley Lentini of the American Civil Liberties Union put the cost of this in another perspective, when she referenced the untapped potential of these students.

“By placing an unequal financial burden on both undocumented students and their families, Connecticut is hamstringing itself and its future,” she said, as quoted by WNPR. “They offer talents and skills that Connecticut should encourage and seek to benefit from.

What’s the story with getting financial aid if you’re undocumented?

Every state is different when it comes to grants or student-generated aid, but there is a universal theme: undocumented students are by and large barred from any access to federal financial aid.

There are various immigration statuses that do allow for access to aid, like if you have your green card, if you’re a refugee, or if you have T-1 nonimmigrant status. So it’s best to carefully consider your status and check with the Department of Education’s definitions.

But there is hope even if you don’t meet those requirements. If you’re in a similar situation, there are some instances where filing a FAFSA® can help with available aid at state or college levels.

Check with your college’s financial aid office and then come back to Frank. We may not be able to change legislation, but we can make the application process a whole lot easier.