Gov. Jerry Brown ended a veto streak by his predecessor, signing a bill to let undocumented college students apply for private scholarships at state colleges and universities. AB 130 is one of a two-bill set by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) that makes college more affordable for students brought to the country illegally by their parents.
During a signing ceremony (watch the video here) Monday in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at Los Angeles City College, Cedillo praised Gov. Brown for being a man of his word and for his courageous leadership on this issue. The Governor had made signing a state Dream Act one of his campaign promises during a debate with rival Meg Whitman.
“By being here today you are giving testament to the importance of education and the value of hard work, dedication and academic excellence regardless of immigration status,” Cedillo said to the Governor.
The second part of the Dream Act, AB 131, faces a tougher road because it would open the state-funded Cal Grants program to the students. That bill is currently on hold in the state senate and won’t be acted on until the legislature returns from summer break in a couple of weeks. Gov. Brown has not said whether he’ll sign it if it should pas, but has indicated that he supports the principles behind the act.
Governor calls AB 130 an “investment in people”
In his remarks, Brown continued the theme of making higher education accessible, noting that half of all babies born in California are born into very low income families, and investing in their education is an investment in the state’s economic viability.
“This is one piece of a very important mosaic, which is a California that works for everyone, and a California who understands where our strength is,” and that’s not just in having extra money for entertainment said the Governor. “It’s also being able to go to a Community college or a state college and being able to afford it.”
Then in an impromptu lighthearted moment, the Governor placed the bill on Cedillo’s back and signed it so everyone in the room could get a view of the historic event. AB 130 takes effect on January 1, 2010.
Critics warn that the law invites further illegal immigration to California, draining resources that aren’t even adequate for legal residents. “Every additional dollar the state spends on illegal immigrants is a dollar it cannot spend on students who are here legally,” wrote Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) in an Op-Ed in the Orange County Register. “Such an action will only act as another magnet to encourage more illegal immigration because of all the generous taxpayer-funded benefits that California offers.”
The new law and its sister bill pertain to a specific group of undocumented students; those who meet the requirements for instate tuition through AB 540. The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, lets any student who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a GED in California, pay resident tuition rates at the University of California, California State University and California community colleges.
Federal DREAM Act remains in doubt
Although it didn’t overshadow Monday’s ceremony, uncertainty over the federal DREAM Act wasn’t far from thought. In a jab directed at Congress and President Obama, Cedillo urged Washington to make the federal DREAM Act a bigger priority.
“We hope and pray and we wait for immigration reform to come from Washington, and we hope and pray for leadership to come from the White House,” said Cedillo.
The federal legislation differs significantly from Cedillo’s bills by creating a path to citizenship for some undocumented students, something only Congress can do. The most recent version was defeated during the lame-duck session just after last November’s election that swept the GOP into the House leadership.
Ten years after if was first introduced in Congress, supporters are showing no signs of backing down. Senator Dick Durban (D-Illinois) and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) reintroduced the DREAM Act this past May as S. 952 and H.R. 1842. The official title is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011.