Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed the second half of the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act into law, which will allow undocumented college students to apply for financial aid at state universities.
The act, first introduced in 2001, has two parts: AB130 and AB131.
AB130 was signed into law in July and allows undocumented students to apply for private financial aid.
AB130, the second half signed into law last week, allows undocumented students who meet certain requirements, such as graduating from a California high school, to apply for state scholarships and financial aid. They will qualify for this aid only after all legal residents have been given the opportunity to apply.
Both aspects of the law mark a progressive and positive step for California’s educational system. Undocumented students are entitled to the same basic rights. AB130 ensures undocumented students will earn their way into college just like documented students.
Michael Varela, lead organizer of the Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success movement at USC, a support organization for undocumented students, agrees with Brown’s decision.
“For universities like USC where we have such a prodigious and constantly growing endowment, the implementation of the DREAM Act will not have any detrimental effects for any student,” Varela said in an email. “These universities may become the best option for undocumented students in their pursuit for a greater future and will probably stand out as ‘factories’ pumping out exceptional leaders in various academic fields who just so happen to be undocumented.”
The United States is a nation of immigrants built upon the ethos of the American dream: Opportunity and equal access, liberty and equality. Why, then, have the terms “undocumented” and “illegal immigrant” become synonyms for a person undeserving of the pursuit of the American dream?
For undocumented students at USC, the passage of California’s DREAM Act is a symbolic milestone in an ongoing fight for equality.
And for all the rest, there is really no harm done. The students who will benefit from the act are already in the United States and have been their entire lives. We all stand to benefit from supporting their education.
Illegal immigration has long been a hot-button issue in the United States. It is a difficult, emotive topic that has returned to center stage with the ongoing debates regarding immigrants and education in states from Alabama to California.
Education has always been a historic battleground for social justice issues. And now, the shift from a federal act to one enforced at a localized level makes it even more critical that students be educated about the Golden State’s version of the federal act of the same name.
Whether you support the DREAM Act or not, it’s key to realize this is an education issue that cannot only make or break individual lives, but the state’s future. It’s time to separate subjective bias from fact and learn about what the act actually means for all Californians.
Cal Grants are the most common route to paying for a college education in California for students who could not otherwise afford it. If students meet GPA and income requirements, they receive money from the state to pay for costs such as tuition, room and board, books or supplies. With these requirements, the state provides scholarships to those who have worked for it. The common argument that the DREAM Act is simply another government handout to an undeserving group is invalidated by these stringent provisions.
Cal Grants are the largest source of California state aid and one of the sources of greatest misunderstanding in the debate about immigrants and education. For some, it seems unfair that public money might go to individuals who aren’t legally supposed to live in the state.
The California Department of Finance, however, estimates the cost for about 2,500 students who will qualify for Cal Grants as a result of the DREAM Act — $14.5 million — only makes up 1 percent of the annual $1.4 billion Cal Grant budget. It is a minimal cost for such a monumental step for California.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish. Her column “Beyond the Classroom” runs Mondays.