The United States Senate deferred the dreams of some 755,000 immigrant youth in voting down legislation that would allow non-citizens to more easily attend American colleges by giving them a path to citizenship.
Originally passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate voted against the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act on Dec. 18 with 55 yays and 41 nays, lacking the necessary 60 votes – three-fifths – to consider the bill.
The legislation, Senate Bill 3992, was first introduced in August 2001, and would have provided high school graduates who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors and had been in the country continuously for at least five years prior the chance to earn conditional permanent residency.
A student would obtain temporary residency by acquiring a degree from an institution of higher education in the U.S., completing at least two years in a college degree program in the U.S. or serving in the uniformed services for at least two years.
Conditional Permanent Residency would have lasted for six years and a person could travel abroad up to 365 days in total during these years.
Students would have been eligible for student loans and federal work-study programs, but not for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants.
Scott Lay, chief executive officer of the California Community College (CCC) trustees, has been working on student immigration legislation since he was a student at UC Davis 15 years ago.
“It’s heartbreaking that this legislation gets tied up in politics,” Lay said. “Lack of financial aid is a barrier to student immigrants. We also need federal action so that that adjustment of immigrant status will help them in the long run, in terms of having more employment eligibility after graduation.”
Back in November, the California Supreme Court upheld Assembly Bill 540, a law with some of the same objectives as the federal DREAM Act. Since 2001, the law has allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they attended a California high school for three or more years, graduated from a California high school or received the equivalent general education diploma.
They also have to be registered or enrolled in a CCC, California State University or University of California and sign a statement with the college or university stating that they will apply for legal residency as soon as they are eligible to do so.
Blanca Hernandez is a UC Davis alumna and former AB 540 student. Hernandez is working with high school students to inform them about the bill. She said the only improvement she would like for AB 540 would be adding financial aid.
In September, for the fourth year in a row, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would give AB 540 students financial aid opportunities. Senate Bill 1460, by then member of the California State Senate Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), would have allowed undocumented AB 540 students to compete for state financial aid and qualify for a Board of Governors fee waiver.
“Illegal aliens should not pay less for California colleges than American students from other states or military families stationed in our state,” Schwarzenegger said in a veto statement issued Sept. 29. “For every illegal alien admitted to a college, an American student or legal resident is turned away. This amounts to preferential treatment for illegal aliens.”
David Wolfe, legislative director of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said his opposition to SB 1460 boiled down to funding.
“There’s no constitutional amendment for higher education funding,” Wolfe said. “This isn’t an attack on immigrants. The state just can’t afford to pay for immigrants when students who are citizens are being turned away from schools because there’s no space for them.”
Communications project coordinator Jon Rodney of the California Immigrant Policy Center said he felt some senators did not have the political courage to pass common sense legislation.
At UC, state residents pay $11,300 in tuition a year; nonresidents pay $34,000. State and federal law prohibit illegal residents from receiving public grants or scholarships.
An estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants receive in-state tuition rates in California.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.