Written by John Oliver Santiago
On October 9, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 131—the second part of the California Dream Act. Going into effect on January 13, 2013, AB 131 will render undocumented students eligible for Cal Grants allocated to California’s public colleges and universitie—so long as they meet all of the requirements.
The requirements are as follows: (1) having been enrolled and attended a California high school for three or more years, (2) the attainment of a high school diploma or GED, and (3) signing the AB 540 affidavit which states that the student is either in the process of attaining their permanent residency or that they’ll apply as soon as they are eligible to do so. These same requirements would qualify these same students for the AB 130—the first part of the California Dream Act that’s already been signed into law and allows undocumented students to receive Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver and any institutional student aid which are administered by each individual college. AB 130 won’t be in effect until January 1, 2012.
Originally introduced in 2006, Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo has finally succeeded in passing the California Dream Act through the State Senate. According to the California Department of Finance, once these laws are enacted about 2,500 undocumented students will qualify for Cal Grants. These Cal Grants would cost about $40 million for the newly qualified AB 540 students, about 3% of the current $1.4 billion budget of the entire program. For 3% of the budget, these students will be eligible for the Entitlement Cal Grants. AB 540 students, however, won’t be able to receive any Competitive Cal Grants until after documented students and citizens receive their aid. And as the budget for the Competitive Cal Grants almost always run out, AB 540 students will virtually receive nothing from that section of the budget.
At the immediate enactment of AB 130, Cedillo’s office reports that 390-480 University of California students, 3,600 California State University students, and 36,000 Community College students would qualify to receive aid—all they’d have to do is apply for these Cal Grants. These same students would qualify for AB 131 on the following year. The main point behind these numbers, however, is if these students would actually apply for these grant moneys. A large problem for undocumented students is their knowledge of their own rights and entitlements.
Conrado Terrazas, the Communications Director for Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo, spoke on behalf of Cedillo in saying that, “they are very happy in its passing because this will help the economy by helping youth who have no fault in the fact that they were brought here as young kids. Where by giving them access to Cal Grants would create a ripple effect of improvement in society. Instead of having to settle for a job at a fast food restaurant serving or cleaning, they can become the future fire fighters, nurses, cops, public servants, or other more able contributors to society.”
But in the next few weeks, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of the 59th district is coordinating an optional referendum that would veto the California Dream Act. He’d need about half a million signatures to sign a petition that would put the referendum on next year’s ballot—putting the fate of the California Dream Act to the public’s vote if the petition goes through. Critics argue that California is already on its tipping point with its budget, and that it can’t handle the $1.4 billion to be allocated, even if it is just 1% of the entire Cal Grant budget. Some others charge that even with a college degree, these students are going to be unable to get a job with it regardless. Tim Donnelly is fervent in opposing this bill in saying that, “Why are the dreams of illegal aliens more important than the dreams of American kids?”
The office of Gilbert Cedillo’s take on their inability to get hired out of graduation is that the immigration status of AB 540 students can change at any time from whatever circumstance, but the chance for a worthwhile and fruitful education only comes once.
The California Dream Act is another chapter in the long running problems of the United States’ immigration problem. Some argue that it’s a defeatist attitude, to simply accommodate illegal immigrants. They are breaking the law just by being here. There are people who are in line waiting to get into this country in a legal way. But the fact still remains, that these are students who were brought here as young kids who otherwise did not have a choice in doing so. Their parents brought them here. They grew up in the United States, the only country they’ve known. They identify themselves as Americans. In California there is an 18.2% high school dropout rate—around 1 student for every 5. And for every legal student that forgoes their education and benefits, there’s an undocumented student that’s willing to work for their spot.