Politics

Korean-American student dreams big with passage of Dream Act

Jaime Kim is one of many undocumented students who witnessed Governor Brown sign the California Dream Act at Los Angeles City College. The new law allows undocumented students access to privately financed scholarships at public colleges, but not public money. That's their next battle.
Jaime Kim is one of many undocumented students who witnessed Governor Brown sign the California Dream Act at Los Angeles City College. The new law allows undocumented students access to privately financed scholarships at public colleges, but not public money. That's their next battle.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Jaime Kim, 20, and her parents arrived in Southern California from South Korea a decade ago. Her parents, like so many others, used a limited tourist visa to travel to the U.S. and never returned home.

"I was told we were going to America," Kim said. "And I just did what I was told."

She was 10 years old when the family moved to Fullerton. "I didn’t look back. I worked hard in school."

Kim earned mostly A's, and began looking at colleges and applying for financial aid. That's when her mother broke the news – she was an illegal immigrant.

Because of Kim’s immigration status, she didn’t qualify for financial aid. "I was devastated. I was ashamed.”

As a Fullerton Community College student, Kim became active in the student movement to win financial aid for undocumented students. She said the Koreans involved called themselves "the Korean Dream Team."

Kim attended Governor Jerry Brown's signing of the California Dream Act at Los Angeles City College Monday.

“This bill will allow me to continue my education," Kim said.

"I want to go to school all the way. PhD, that’s always been my dream. Maybe law schools, who knows?”

The new law, AB 130, allows undocumented students access to privately funded scholarships starting next year. A companion bill, AB 131, would allow illegal immigrants to receive financial aid and state-funded scholarships.

This differs from the proposed federal Dream Act that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students.

In his prepared remarks, Brown said that signing the bill was about investing in people, and education.

“This is one piece of a very important mosaic, which is a California that works for everyone," the governor said.

Opponents of the Dream Act have said illegal immigrants should receive no benefits from the government.

Los Angeles-area Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who cosponsored the state Dream Act, said he hopes to win approval for a second and more controversial part of the bill. It would allow the estimated 24,000 undocumented students who graduate from the state’s high schools each year to qualify for publicly-funded financial aid in college.

He says the potential $35 million price tag is worth it. “Public education is the lifeblood of our democracy. Public education in this great state and this great nation is the equalizer of our society," Cedillo said.

He thinks he has better prospects to advance the second half of the Dream Act with Jerry Brown in the governor’s office. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation three times.

Kim said its important for Asian-Americans to speak out on these issues. "I have a lot of Hispanic friends – the issue is very well known and very accepted," she said. "In the Asian community, it’s very small and very hushed down.”

"People think that the Dream Act only covers hispanics, but it's really not," Kim said. "It's people from all over the world who come to this country because they want to have the opportunities to better themselves."

KPCC's Hayley Fox contributed to this report.