The California DREAM Act is more than just a dream. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 131 into law Saturday. The measure allows for undocumented immigrant students to receive scholarships and aid, including Cal Grants, at public universities.
This law applies to undocumented immigrant students who came to the United States prior to turning 16, attended high school in California and confirmed that they are in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status. Students who fit this description are already eligible for in-state tuition. AB 131 will be effective Jan. 1, 2013.
The California DREAM Act is composed of two bills, AB 131 and a companion measure, AB 130, which was signed into law on July 25 and gave these students access to private financial aid.
“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown said in a press release. “The DREAM Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”
Jon Rodney, communications project coordinator for the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), was pleased with the signature and released a statement from the CIPC.
“The DREAM Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us,” the press release stated. “The Act will assist talented young people who have excelled in school and are Americans – and Californians – in all but paperwork. The Act will nurture the development of the state’s next generation of doctors, scientists, scholars, and thinkers, who will help move California’s economy forward.”
Brown negotiated amendments to the bill to reduce costs, including excluding technical and adult school graduates from the law and delaying implementation until 2013.
Lawmakers passed AB 131, authored by State Rep. Gil Cedillo (D- Los Angeles), on partisan lines.
Democrats supported the law, as they said it would lead to a better educated population. Many Republicans felt that giving scholarships to undocumented students would encourage illegal immigration to the U.S. and would be too expensive.
The program’s expansion is expected to cost the state between $23 million and $40 million a year.
The bill’s passage comes at a time when immigration law has become stricter in states like Georgia and Alabama. At the same time, the Obama administration announced in August it would suspend deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants who aren’t a danger to public safety, including people who immigrated as young children and are students.
“[The bill] will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration,” Cedillo said in a prepared statement.
Blanca Hernandez, a UC Davis alumna and a benefactor of AB 540, which allows for in-state intuition for illegal immigrants, said the act is a good step forward, but still lacks a path to citizenship for these students.
State Rep. Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino) said he believes the legislation encourages illegal immigration and forces students who are legal residents to compete with undocumented individuals for public resources.
“I think that it is perhaps the biggest mistake that Gov. Brown has ever made,” he said, “other than unionizing public employees.”
“It’s morally wrong,” Donnelly went on to add. “We have just created a new entitlement that is going to cause tens of thousands of people to come here illegally from all over the world.”
Donnelly is setting up an opposition campaign against the law called “STOP the Nightmare Act” and plans on organizing a referendum campaign to repeal the act.
The California Department of Finance, which administers Cal Grants, estimates that 2,500 additional students will qualify for Cal Grants as a result of AB 131, at a cost of about $13 million for the 2013-14 school year. There are 370,000 low-income students part of the Cal Grant program.
The cost to taxpayers will in fact be over $13 million a year, as many undocumented students also will be eligible for a fee waiver at community colleges for very low-income students, and others will qualify for institutional aid provided by CSU and UC.
Cal Grants is funded at $1.4 billion, meaning that about 1 percent of these funds will be potentially impacted by AB 131 when the law goes into effect.
At the University of California, $4 million or $5 million a year could go to the new Cal Grants, UC legislative director Nadia Leal-Carrill told the San Francisco Chronicle.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.