SACRAMENTO – Illegal immigrants can now apply for state-funded scholarships and aid at state universities after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Saturday that he has signed the second half of a legislative package focused on such students.
AB131 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, is the second half of the California Dream Act. Brown signed the first half of the package in July, which approved private scholarships and loans for students who are illegal immigrants.
Under current law, illegal immigrant students who have graduated from a California high school and can prove they're on the path to legalize their immigration status can pay resident tuition rates. The bill would allow these students to apply for state aid.
The contentious second half of the package requires that immigrant students meet the same requirements as all other students applying for financial aid at state universities but specifies that they only qualify for financial aid after all the other legal residents have applied.
"The signing of now both parts of the California Dream Act 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.
The bills are different from the federal Dream Act, which includes a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
Brown says the bill expands educational opportunities for all qualified students.
"Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking," Brown said. "The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us."
Critics of the bills say it undermines immigration laws and encourages illegal immigration by granting access to state resources reserved for legal residents. Many Republican lawmakers say legal students have had their grants cut in light of recent budget cuts to higher education.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said the bill's passage will the biggest mistake the Democratic Party makes.
"The polling indicates that 80 to 90 percent of Californians are against this, and it crosses party lines," Donnelly said. He said he hopes to get a ballot initiative overturning the law started as soon as the bill is officially included in state statutes.
"It is absolutely, fundamentally wrong and unfair and it is an insult to people who have worked and played by the rules, including those who have come to this country legally," he said.
Ginny Rapini, coordinator for the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, said there should be consequences for illegal immigrants and giving them an education funded by California taxpayers isn't fair to the legal residents who can't afford to pay for their own tuition.
"What part of illegal do we not get? When people come here illegally they need to come here with the same rules and regulations that other people came here with," Rapini said.
Supporters argue that children whose were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents shouldn't be punished.
The state Department of Finance estimates that 1 percent of all Cal Grant funds, the state student financial aid program, will be affected by the legislative package when it goes into effect in January 2013. The department says that 2,500 students would qualify for aid under the bill and estimates the costs to equal $14.5 million of a $1.4 billion program.