By Dina Martin
Undocumented students will have an easier time gaining access to higher education institutions following the passage this summer of the California Dream Act, two bills that will allow them to apply for financial aid funded by the private and public sectors.
“I absolutely feel this is significant,” says Theresa Montaño, professor of education and Chicano studies at CSU Northridge and a CTA Board member representing higher education. “I can’t tell you how many students I have who fall into this category. They are great students, they are working their way through school — sometimes with three to four jobs — but they can’t get financial aid. This allows them to come out of the shadows.”
The first part of the two-part legislation, AB 130 by Assembly Member Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), is limited to private scholarship funds. Nevertheless, its passage in July boosted the morale for immigrant rights advocates who have pushed for more recognition of California residents who were brought here illegally as children. It allows undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition to apply for $88 million in private scholarships administered by UC, CSU, and the community college system.
At press time, the second part of the legislation, AB 131, had been passed by the Legislature and was heading to the governor’s desk for approval. That bill is much broader, and would allow those students to receive statefunded scholarships and grants, including Cal Grants, which provide up to $12,192. The Legislature approved amendments sought by the governor that address the bill’s cost by narrowing eligibility and delaying implementation until 2013.
Previously, the California Dream Act was introduced as one bill, and was vetoed several times by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dividing the bill into two parts allowed Gov. Brown to sign AB 130 without the political outcry of opponents who argued the state can’t afford to educate undocumented students.
Yet many educators maintain the state cannot afford not to provide access to education for undocumented students. Eileen Tejada, an instructor at Napa Valley College and the daughter of immigrants, described education as a “human right” at a news conference sponsored by the Napa Valley Dream Act Coalition.
Tejada said the California Dream Act is about giving every California student equal access to higher education. “We don’t need to build more prisons. What we need to do is open more doors to education.”
The California Dream Act, unlike the federal Dream Act, does not create a pathway to citizenship for these students, but supporters are ever hopeful, says Montaño. “It’s a baby step toward the federal Dream Act.”