Undocumented immigrants in California will soon be able to receive state-financed aid to attend college as Gov. Jerry Brown Saturday signed into law the second half of a legislative package known as the California Dream Act.
“Taking action to expand educational opportunity to all qualified students, Governor Edmund G. [Jerry] Brown Jr. today signed the California Dream Act,” the governor’s office announced in a statement Saturday.
“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown said. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”
Under the first half of the package signed earlier this year and known as AB 130, undocumented students pay resident tuition rates if they have graduated from a California high school and affirmed that they are in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status. Effective January 1, 2013, AB 131, the second half of the package, will make this limited pool of students eligible to apply for Cal Grants and other state aid, Brown’s office said.
Both bills were authored by Assembly member Gil Cedillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles.
“After having invested 12 years in the high school education of these young men and women, who are here through no fault of their own, it’s the smartest thing for us to do to permit these students to get scholarships and be treated like every other student,” Los Angeles Times quoted Cedillo as saying. “We need an educated workforce. This is good for California’s economy and California’s future.”
It is estimated that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants at a cost of $14.5 million – about 1 percent of all Cal Grant funds at $1.4 billion, according to Brown’s office.
The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the bill on Aug. 31.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the measure, saying that benefits are being extended to illegal immigrants at a time when the state is cutting spending on the country’s legal citizens.
Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed similar legislation thrice during his time in office.
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, a Republican from Santa Clarita, estimates that there are about 40,000 illegal immigrants who might apply for financial aid from the limited funds that are not being increased by the legislation. “Therefore, for every dollar awarded to an undocumented student from that pot of money, a dollar would have to be taken away from a citizen or a legal immigrant,” Smyth was quoted as saying. “I believe that is wrong.”
Opponents warn that such measures should be passed only after reforming the country’s immigration rules, as they could otherwise be seen as endorsement of illegal immigration. But supporters are calling for passage of a federal Dream Act to give college graduates and those who have served in the military a chance to get citizenship.