Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the California DREAM Act on Sept. 30 for the second time in two years. The act, authored by state senator Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), was aiming to allow illegal immigrants access to financial aid at the University of California, California State University and California’s community colleges.
“I share the author’s goal of making affordable education available to all California students,” wrote Governor Schwarzenegger in a letter to the state senate, “but given the precarious fiscal condition the state faces at this time, it would not be prudent to place additional demands on our limited financial aid resources as specified in this bill.“
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would have allowed illegal immigrants access to the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, scholarship disbursements, and the High School Graduate Cal Grant A and B.
If Cedillo continues to try to pass the bill he can either seek to override the veto or amend the current bill and present it in the next fiscal year.
“The bill was amended in order to address the governor’s concerns, yet he still vetoed it,” said Yuliana Mendez, spokesperson for Cedillo. “We will more than likely be introducing another DREAM Act with another amendment.“
“Things like this bill may be well-intentioned but are going to come at a tremendous cost and are probably not going to be the best for California at this time, in the daunting fiscal condition we are in,” said Sam Cannon, chief of staff for state Representative Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley), who voted against the bill.
Every year an estimated 65,000 students graduate from U.S. high schools as illegal immigrants, and 24,000 of those students are in California, according to the Urban Institute.
If these students attend California colleges, they are ineligible for government aid.
“Because undocumented students don’t have a social security number, they can’t take out a loan or apply for federal aid,” said Mendez. “They have to pay out of pocket, and they can’t get a job because they don’t have a social security number.“
If the California DREAM Act were passed, the aid that students would receive would also include the private funding of each institution, said Mendez.
“Our bill gives students access to that money,” said Mendez. “If Senator Cedillo donated $5,000 to UC Davis for undocumented students, the money would go to them.“
There are two ways in which the California DREAM Act would affect the financial aid systems, according to a statement from state Representative Mike Villines‘ office. Either the number of financial aid awards would be increased, or the same amount of awards would be dispersed among more students.
“[This bill] could create General Fund cost pressures, possibly in excess of $2 million,” said the statement. “[Or] it would have the affect of bumping some students who are currently eligible for institutional financial aid and replacing them with [undocumented] students.”
The California DREAM Act is not the same as the federal DREAM Act, which would grant permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who plan to go to college or serve in the military.
Illegal immigrants have been able to pay in-state tuition fees since AB 540 was passed in 2001. UC Davis tuition for a California resident is currently $9,496.60. Nonresidents will be paying $30,104.60 for the school year.
AB 540 students must attend high school in California for three or more years, graduate or pass the GED, and promise to apply for lawful immigration status.
The California DREAM Act states that only documented and AB 540 students would be eligible for financial aid.
A lawsuit against AB 540 was filed in 2006 and is still pending in the court system.
The case alleged that AB 540 discriminates against documented students from out of state and that it goes against federal law. The case was dismissed, granted an appeal and will now be brought back before the Yolo County Superior Court.
If AB 540 is abolished, the California DREAM Act may need further amending in order to account for the increase in cost of tuition for undocumented students.
“It sends the wrong message when California passes bills without any anticipated revenue,” said Cannon. “People have to tighten their belts right now, and [the California DREAM Act] does the exact opposite.“
The AB 540 case is ongoing and Cedillo has not made an official announcement that he is going to present the bill again next year.
“We don’t know what is going to happen, and it is all going to take a long time,” said Mendez.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) told the Sacramento Bee Wednesday that this year’s budget situation is already in peril. Perata said that if the current state budget is not revised California could face a deficit of $3 to $5 billion this fiscal year.
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