Earlier this month, the California state Assembly approved one of two bills referred to as the California Dream Act. While neither proposes legal status for undocumented students, as does the similarly named federal proposal, both aim to make it easier for them to pay for college.
The bill that recently cleared the Assembly was AB 130, which would allow for undocumented students who already meet the residency criteria for California in-state tuition to obtain scholarships that are not derived from state funds.
Today, the more contentious of the two bills, known as AB 131, passed 12 to 5 through the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A full Assembly vote is expected next week.
AB 131 faces slimmer odds of passage than its companion bill, which like this one is sponsored by Gil Cedillo, a Democratic Assembly member from Los Angeles. The reason: Unlike AB 130, it would allow undocumented students access to publicly-funded financial aid, including Cal Grants state grants and other financial assistance.
The bill would amend existing law, allowing undocumented students - presently barred from public financial aid - who meet residency requirements for in-state tuition to benefit from aid programs as other students do. An excerpt from the text of the bill:
This bill would amend the Donahoe Higher Education Act, as of July 1, 2012, to require the Trustees of the California State University and the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, and to request the regents, to establish procedures and forms that enable persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the above-described provision, or who meet equivalent requirements adopted by the regents, to apply for, and participate in, all student aid programs administered by these segments to the full extent permitted by federal law, except as provided. This provision would apply to the University of California only if the regents, by appropriate resolution, act to make it applicable.
This bill would provide that persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the above provision, or who meet equivalent requirements adopted by the regents, are eligible to apply for, and participate in, any student financial aid program administered by the State of California to the full extent permitted by federal law.
This bill would require the Student Aid Commission to establish procedures and forms that enable those persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the above provision to apply for, and participate in, all student financial aid programs administered by the State of California to the full extent permitted by federal law.
This bill would prohibit persons who are exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the provision described above from being eligible for Competitive Cal Grant A and B Awards unless specified conditions are met. The bill would make these provisions operative as of July 1, 2012.
The bill would also require community college districts to waive the fees of students who qualify for a waiver. Opponents have complained that the cash-strapped state can’t afford the legislation. State funding cuts recently prompted the University of California system to ramp up its recruiting of out-of-state students, who bring in more paying higher nonresident tuition.
But some students who were following the vote today were celebratory. "It looks pretty promising," said Ricardo Muñiz, 23, a Fullerton College student who plans to transfer to a four-year college. "I feel good about it."
But only to a degree. Muñiz, who arrived with his family from Mexico at age 7, is the last in his family to adjust his immigration status. Still undocumented, he is now in deportation proceedings. Speaking by phone from a vote-viewing party at the downtown offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Muñiz said he recently received a letter from the government telling him he must leave the country next month.
Students like Muñiz would benefit from the federal Dream Act, which proposes conditional legal status for young people brought here under age 16 if they go to college or join the military. Senate Democrats recently announced they would introduce a new version of the bill, the most recent one having failed a Senate vote in December, but it has yet to make it to the Senate floor.