How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Will Jerry Brown sign the California Dream Act's AB 131?

Photo courtesy of Dream Team Los Angeles

UCLA graduate and California Dream Act supporter Nancy Meza holds petitions in downtown Los Angeles, Wednesday, October 5, 2011

California Gov. Jerry Brown has just four days left to sign or veto a bill known as AB 131, part of what's called the California Dream Act, before a bill-signing deadline.

Brown has indicated his support in the past for the measure, which would allow undocumented students access to publicly-funded financial aid for college. But with little time left to go - and a history of similar bills being vetoed by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - the students who would benefit from AB 131 and immigrant advocates are increasing the pressure.

In Los Angeles, student activists organized a small demonstration downtown this morning to deliver petitions to Brown's local office. Other AB 131 supporters have been circulating petitions online and urging calls to the governor.

No word yet from Brown's office today on the likelihood that he'll decide on the bill before Friday, but a spokesman for AB 131 sponsor Gil Cedillo, a Democratic state assembly member from Los Angeles, said the governor has until Sunday.

"The deadline is the 9th, so even if it is a weekend, that is the last day he can sign or veto bills," wrote Conrado Terrazas, Cedillo's spokesman, in an email.

The stakes are high and the bill is especially contentious, with supporters and opponents divided along more than party lines.

AB 131's companion bill AB 130, the first of the two bills comprising the California Dream Act, was signed into law by Brown in July. Also sponsored by Cedillo, that measure allowed undocumented college students access to privately-funded scholarships and grants that were not available to them before. While there was opposition to that bill, it was mild by comparison, as were the related costs.

AB 131, on the other hand, would allow undocumented students who meet state residency requirements to access the same state-funded tuition aid programs available to U.S. citizens and legal residents. The measure has come far enough in a tough state economic climate. Implementing AB 131 could cost anywhere between $22 million and $42 million, according to Cedillo's office, although roughly $13 million of that would come from money that is already set aside for low-income students whose grades qualify them for CalGrants.

Opponents of AB 131 say they don’t wish to spend state funds on educating undocumented students, especially if their immigration status prevents them from fully using their degrees after graduation. That, and that there's not enough money to go around given the state's financial woes.

Unlike the federal Development, Relief and Education of Minors (DREAM) Act, neither of the California bills proposes granting legal status to students. By law, undocumented immigrants in California do qualify for in-state tuition if they meet residency requirements, but they are presently barred from receiving public tuition aid, as other students can. As an alternative, many work multiple jobs while they study, spreading out their education over several years.

A current version of AB 131, as approved by the state Senate and House just over a month ago, can be downloaded here.

Brown has until Sunday to sign or veto a long list of recently passed bills. Among them is another controversial bill involving college students, SB 185, which would allow the consideration of race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin in undergraduate and graduate admissions,

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