Oscar Garcia, a sophomore majoring in psychology who transferred to USC this semester, is one of a very small number of undocumented students on campus.
And, as he put it during a panel Monday night about the federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, that is unacceptable.
The collective student action that has been taken to confront the structural barriers undocumented students face in today’s educational system demonstrates the importance of the act.
The DREAM Act is well known as the federal bill that would provide undocumented immigrants access to higher education and, eventually, legal citizenship. The federal bill failed to pass the Senate in December.
Lesser known is California’s version of the DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2006 and addresses the inequalities undocumented students currently face in California.
The California DREAM Act is split into two parts, AB 130 and AB 131, in response to those who don’t agree with spending state dollars on illegal immigrants. AB 130 offers the students access to grants and aid administered by colleges, and would not cost the state a penny. AB 131, however, would allow undocumented students to apply for state-funded Cal Grants.
If the California DREAM Act passes, undocumented students who graduate from California high schools will be able to access financial aid at public institutions.
For undocumented students at USC, passage of the California bill might prompt university officials to offer similar access to aid in the form of grants and scholarships. Such action would be a critical first step for students at private colleges struggling to pay much higher tuition.
Students have a wide variety of opinions about illegal immigration, the issue at the core of the DREAM Act. But what we can agree on is that bringing the act to the state level gives students more of a collective voice.
The action California students have taken in support of the DREAM Act is exciting, inspiring and necessary to propel the act forward.
This month, the UC Student Association gave out thousands of postcards addressed to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to sign the bill into law this year. The organization hopes to collect 10,000 postcards signed by UC students and then deliver them to Sacramento. UCLA collected 500 postcards on the first day alone.
Here at USC, Garcia recently created the Organization for Undocumented Student Issues, a support and advocacy group for undocumented students. He spoke about the need for such a group at the event Monday evening, which was put on by the Latino, Black, and Political Student Assemblies as well as Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success (IDEAS), a support network for undocumented students at UCLA.
Such demonstrations of student initiative indicate the potential power students hold to take the next step forward.
Since its creation in 2006, the California DREAM Act has been introduced, passed and then vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a total of three times. Brown, however, has voiced support for the act.
In light of this, and the current surge of student activism, maybe the fourth time is the charm.
Elena Kadvany is a junior majoring in Spanish.