AB 131, part of the two-bill package known as the California Dream Act, was approved by a key California state Senate committee Thursday, allowing the bill to move forward in the state Senate. It would allow college students who are illegal immigrants and qualify for in-state tuition to apply for Cal Grants and other public financial aid.
Other versions of the bill have been approved since 2006 only to be vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill's other portion last month. That bill allows undocumented students to apply for private financial aid. Brown has said he would sign the bills Schwarzenegger vetoed, according to the L.A. Times.
If the bill becomes law, undocumented students who graduate from a California high school would be eligible for State University Grants, U.C. Grants and Cal Grants, Board of Governors Fee Waivers, and Institutional Student Aid.
But some are leery as access to public aid becomes more difficult in a climate of public budget cuts. Opponents argue a financially strapped California cannot afford new benefits for anyone, let alone illegal immigrants, and that with the UC system charging more and offering less, there is little reason to make it more difficult for citizens to get an education.
On Thursday"s Patt Morrison Show, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-39) said that the state should not be prioritizing higher education for those who are not citizens or are not on a path to citizenship.
"If you're an American citizen or you're in the process of becoming one, we want to reward you," he said. "We want to put you first. We certainly shouldn't be putting people first who've come here the wrong way, no matter how deserving they might be. We can feel for them, but we're not here in this statehouse here to pass laws on the basis of feelings."
Supporters of the bill say students should be allowed to compete on the basis of merit, regardless of their citizenship status. They argue that California has already invested in these students and would benefit from the contributions they make to the state once they graduate.
"They are the best and the brightest, they’re the first in the library in the morning, the last ones to leave at night," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of L.A. "They’re the valedictorians, the student body presidents. They’re the ones who we look to the future for," he said.
The full senate will now vote on the measure.