Illegal immigrants in California could soon receive state financial aid, pending Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on the second part of the California DREAM Act.
The bill passed the Calif. State Senate on Aug. 31 and the State Assembly on Sept. 2, where it awaits Brown’s signature. The first part of the bill, which allows illegal immigrants to receive private scholarships, was signed into law in July.
The second part, AB 131, would provide financial aid in the form of community college district fee waivers, institutional aid from the University of California and California State systems, and access to Cal Grants (which students do not need to pay back) for eligible undocumented residents. If passed, the bill would give illegal immigrants the most access to higher ed financing in the country.
A State Senate report estimated the annual cost of the bill to be around $40 million. (The fiscal impact for the 2013-14 school year would be $13 million in Cal Grants, $7.5 to $15 million in fee waivers, and $11.4 to $12.2 million in institutional aid.)
This year, Brown’s budget cut $1.4 billion from the three California education systems (UC, CSU, and the community college system).
Opponents, like Assemblyman Tim Donnelly have seized on the cost of the bill. Donnelly has said he will referendum the measure if it is signed into law.
“Students are already struggling to pay increased tuition and many cannot even get into the classes they need,” he said in a statement earlier this month, “but the Legislature continues to pretend we can afford this entitlement. The simple truth is, everyone including the governor knows we can’t.”
In a letter to Gov. Brown, Donnelly questioned the long-term value of the bill.
“While I appreciate the value of education,” Donnelly writes to Brown, “arguments that this is an investment are, at best, misguided. Students who are in the country illegally cannot be legally employed in the state.”
Supporters, like the group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a coalition “to defend affirmative action, integration & immigration rights and fight for equality by any means necessary,” say the bill is a step forward in the fight for equality and public education.
“Winning the California DREAM Act and AB 131 will take us so much closer to and strengthen our whole movement to defend public education,” said Yvette Felarca, the Northern Calif. coordinator for BAMN.
Felarca said BAMN has sent almost 2000 petitions to Brown and is collecting more.
“We are continuing to petition the governor to demand that Jerry Brown sign AB 131 and live up to his campaign promises that he would sign the California DREAM Act if it hit his desk,” she said.
The activists certainly have support at the highest levels of higher education in California. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and UC Berkley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau both endorsed bill this summer.
“The DREAM Act legislation for California is overdue, way overdue. It has my strongest support. Let’s get moving,” Block said in a statement earlier this year.
The bill would use the same qualification standards set by the original in-state tuition bill, AB 504, passed in California in 2001.
The AB 504 tuition exemption applies to students who have attended for at least three years and graduated from a Calif. high school, registered at or attended an accredited California institution of higher education no earlier than the 2001-02 academic school year, and filed a “prescribed affidavit” if he or she is an “alien without lawful immigration status.”
Joey Jachowski is a senior staff writer for the Stanford Review. He is a contributor to The College Fix.