The California DREAM Act (AB 130), makes undocumented immigrant college students eligible for previously unavailable privately funded scholarships for attendance at community colleges, state colleges, and public universities in California.. AB 130 passed through the California Senate in mid-July, and was favored as it would not cost taxpayers anything. The passage of AB 130 was a major victory for immigrants, as previous versions of the California DREAM Act were approved three times before by the state legislature, but then vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger each time.
In the latest effort to pass the Act, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo split the measure into two bills, respectively known as AB 130 and AB 131. Now the latter bill is under consideration, and it is here where the majority of the Act’s weight—and its controversy—truly lies.Specifically, AB 131 would allow undocumented students to access Cal Grants (the state’s financial aid) and would allow these same individuals to qualify for Board of Governors fee waivers at community colleges, which would allow students in low-income families to have their tuition waived. AB 131 would also allow for undocumented students in the University of California system to gain eligibility for university grants.
Lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens would still have priority over undocumented students for Cal Grants under the bill. Due to the nature of the economy at present, undocumented individuals would likely not see much grant money given their low priority, but the bill’s provision for them still marks an improvement for them regarding student financial rights, especially as these immigrants now have more of a stake in California’s tuition equity.Bills such as AB 131 benefit from a history of prior similar legislation benefiting undocumented aliens. Specifically, the 2001 state law AB 540 allows students who graduated California high schools to pay in-state tuition regardless of their immigration status.
Today, undocumented immigrant students still reap the benefits available from AB 540, as over three thousand such individuals are enrolled in the Cal State system with the help from the ten-year old law. It is the success of such older laws which drive immigrants today to push for other measures such as AB 131, which will extend ever more financial protections for them so that they may build more secure futures for themselves and their families in the United States.
Advocates on the federal level continue to push for the big DREAM Act which would provide undocumented students who graduated from US high schools with a path to legal permanent residence.