Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What the California Dream Act's AB 130 does - and doesn't do

Photo by sea turtle/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Although his staff hasn't come right out and said it, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign part of a legislative package referred to as the California Dream Act today. Immigrant advocates expect the governor to sign legislation referred to as AB 130, recently approved in the state Senate, during a town hall meeting that Brown will attend this afternoon at Los Angeles City College. The meeting is hosted by Democratic Assembly member Gil Cedillo, who sponsored AB 130 and a companion bill.

If Brown signs the bill, it will be a victory for the state's undocumented college students, long barred from most forms of financial aid at public colleges and universities. To some degree, it's a symbolic one: Unlike its companion AB 131, which would allow them access to the same public financial aid U.S. citizens and legal residents are entitled to, AB 130 only allows these students access to privately funded scholarships.

Still, it's access to funds not previously available to undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition under California law. According to a Los Angeles Times editorial today, the University of California awarded more than $45 million last year in donor-funded scholarships to undergraduates. But advocates are holding out for what they consider the real meat and potatoes, the more contentious AB 131, which has yet to make it to the Senate floor.

Student advocate Nancy Meza, a recent UCLA graduate who was brought here by her parents as a child and remains undocumented, sent out this message from a student group today:

Undocumented students are thankful that AB130 will be enacted into law; however, the more substantial portion of the CA Dream Act, AB131, needs to be taken out of Suspense in the Appropriations Committee and signed into law in order to have a true CA Dream Act.

AB131 will have the greater impact for undocumented students in their educational journeys as it would provide state financial aid to undocumented students. Currently, undocumented students are not eligible for any state or federal financial aid making financing their education nearly impossible.

The other bill faces an uphill climb because it would employ state funds, and with the state in a financial crisis, there is particularly strong opposition. Republican state Assembly member Jim Silva recently wrote in the Orange County Register:
AB131 would give illegal immigrants access to that aid, even though they legally cannot obtain a job in the United States after graduation. It makes no sense.

There is a pending federal proposal, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, that would grant conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented youths brought here before age 16 if they go to college or enlist in the military. Unlike the similarly named federal bill, neither of the two bills comprising the California Dream Act proposes legalization.

That the slimmer portion of the state package has made it this far is in itself a milestone. Cedillo, of Los Angeles, has brought forward similar legislation for years that has won the approval of legislative peers, but been vetoed by the governor's office.