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Some Undocumented Students Will Now Qualify for State Aid

Undocumented students in California and their allies were celebrating this week following Gov. Jerry Brown’s Oct. 8 signing of a controversial bill that will allow some undocumented students to qualify for state funded financial aid.

“The signing now of both parts of the California Dream Act will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration,” said Assemblymember Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who authored both bills.

In July, Brown signed AB 130 that allows undocumented students to apply for private scholarships to support their education at University of California, California State University and California Community College campuses.

AB 131 now also allows undocumented students, who meet certain eligibility requirements, to apply for state-funded scholarships and financial aid. Students must have attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated, and assert they are in the process of legalizing their immigration status. Like all California students who receive non-merit based aid, they must also meet financial need and academic requirements.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the passage of AB 131 an investment in the dreams of talented undocumented students and in the future economy of California.

LAUSD School Board President Mónica García called Brown’s leadership in signing the bill “heroic and historic,” and said they urge Congress and President Obama to address issues related to the Federal Dream Act immediately.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which runs numerous parochial schools in the county, also chimed in.
“The governor’s signature clears the path for immigrant students to further their education … These students have already demonstrated their academic ability and commitment; they deserve the opportunity to pursue their goals for the future,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said in a statement.

Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA), called it a great day “for immigrant students who have kept their end of the bargain and continue to give their best to the only nation they know as their home.”

Cedillo has reiterated that the California Dream Act was approved despite lack of initial support.
“The thousands of people and dozens of organizations who continued to fight for the California Dream Act year after year, in spite of the advice of experts and pundits who said it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done,  have now seen their work vindicated.”

Cedillo thanked the students who he said continued to make phone calls, write letters, and travel to Sacramento to urge legislators and the governor to pass the bill, despite knowing they would not personally benefit from its enactment.

“They have the most to be proud of because their work has been on behalf of others – the young students who they will never know who will be lifted up because of their dedication and sacrifice,” Cedillo said.

Not everyone, however, was happy with the bills signing.

Kristen Williamson, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national organization pushing tougher enforcement of immigration laws, said the bill is “a reckless use of taxpayer money” at a time when the state is broke.

Several state Republicans are also unhappy with the governor’s signing, and one assemblyman, Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino, said he would launch a referendum campaign to overturn the measure
Donnelly said times are tough, and the state has had to cut services and raise tuition at state colleges and universities, and many students have seen their grant amounts cut over the last year. Allowing illegal immigrants to receive financial aid is an insult to legal residents and citizens, and will serve as just another reason for people to cross the border illegally, he said.

The state Department of Finance estimates that about 2,500 students would qualify under the bill, and estimates the cost to be $14.5 million, or 1 percent of the $1.3 billion program.

The San Gabriel Valley Dream Team—which includes undocumented students from Montebello, East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights—highlighted the role of undocumented students who have “courageously come out of the shadows to share their experience.”

“As undocumented students, we’ve faced a particularly difficult challenge in financing our education because of our ineligibility to apply for financial aid,” said Nancy Meza, a former LAUSD student and past member of United Students in East Los Angeles. “

“…But the fight doesn’t end there, we have a lot of work to do,” said Jose Luis Alvarenga, a student at Pasadena City College. His groups said they still want comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship, and for deportation of undocumented students to stop.

“…My father is set to be deported next month and helps me with school, I want to fight for him and the families being torn apart” said Anayely Saguilan a Pasadena City College student and a member of the San Gabriel Valley Dream Team.