California is poised to become the first state to grant undocumented immigrant college students access to publicly funded financial aid, after the Democratic-controlled legislature approved the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the legislation, after having signed in July the first part of the legislative package, extending undocumented students access to private financial aid. Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation three times.
"Why would we cut ourselves off from students who have demonstrated since they got here that they have tremendous talent and resilience?" Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, the bill's principal author, told the New York Times in response to intense Republican opposition as the bill was being debated.
The law would allow access to state-funded financial aid to students who came to the country before age 16, attended a state high school for at least three years and graduated.
While an earlier California law passed in 2001 gave undocumented students meeting similar criteria access to less expensive in-state tuition, the new bill would grant the undocumented access to state-funded grants and scholarships.
Ana Gomez, a graduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was seven years old, said she was one of the few lucky ones who did not have to skip semesters to make money to pay for tuition.
Like most of Gomez' friends, often undocumented students hold down more than one job that pays cash because they lack work permits. Even then they find it near impossible to pay for tuition.
"A lot of kids just get stuck in community college," said Gomez.
Between 28,000 to 40,000 undocumented students in California stand to benefit from the bill, Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of communications and public relations for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the Daily Bruin.
While California is poised to knock down one more roadblock to equal rights for immigrants, undocumented students graduating from college would still face the threat of deportation and major obstacles to employment unless they're able to gain legal residency and citizenship, a process that can take decades.
Immigrant right's advocates argue that there is an urgent need for a federal DREAM Act, which would give students who have graduated from college or served in the military a path to citizenship. Some 1.5 million undocumented students nationwide would benefit from such an act, Cabrera said.
While continuing to press for a federal DREAM Act and more comprehensive immigration reform, many immigrant right's advocates see little chance that Congress would approve such legislation so long as Republicans control the House of Representatives and a large enough Senate minority to filibuster bills.
Photo: Danny Duarte // CC 2.0