California DREAM Act offers financial assistance to undocumented students
Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 18:10
California passed a bill this week that will make students who are illegal immigrants eligible for state financial aid. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act allows undocumented students at state schools to apply for aid such as the Cal Grant.
The DREAM Act is intended to allow high-achieving students the opportunity to attend California universities and community colleges. In order to be eligible, students must qualify for aid under AB 540, which allows non-residents to pay in-state tuition. Applicants are required to attend a California high school for three years, graduate and provide evidence that they are in the process of applying for citizenship.
According to the California Department of Finance, 2,500 students currently qualify for Cal Grants. Luis Quinonez, a legislative aide for assembly member Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, reports that about 30 percent of students under AB 540 are undocumented.
While AB 130, a bill which allows undocumented students to receive private institutional aid, was passed in July, the DREAM Act remains controversial among Californian residents.
The bill, which will go into effect in 2013, will cost between $15 million and $40 million annually, costs which opponents say will further strain California's underfunded education budget. Amid massive budget cuts for schools, the DREAM Act has come under scrutiny for providing aid to illegal aliens.
"When the state is cutting services to legal residents, it's unfair and reckless to be extending benefits to illegal aliens," said Kristen Williamson, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, in an interview with The Daily Bruin, UCLA's newspaper. Some students feel that at a time when many middle-class and low-income families are struggling to pay for their children's education, providing aid to undocumented students is unfair. Californian students are widely divided over the issue, with rallies in support and protest taking place across campuses.
Sasha Hippard '13, another student from California, expressed mixed feelings about the act. "While I am a strong supporter of immigrants' rights, I'm not sure if it's the place of the state government to award state-funded financial aid to individuals who are not, politically speaking, ‘residents' of the state," she said.
Even those who will benefit from the bill have expressed concerns about how it will affect them later in life. The DREAM Act does not promise citizenship or benefits after graduating. Students who receive a diploma will still not be able to apply for U.S. jobs until they become citizens.
"It's messy because it really speaks to the larger question of why these students who are clearly hard-working, contributing and established members of their community are not allowed to gain citizenship, or at the very least, a green card," said Hippard. Proponents of the Act are pushing for the passage of the federal DREAM Act, which would provide U.S. citizenship to undocumented students who have graduated or served in the military. The federal act, however, was rejected last December.