Recent Legislative Development
On Saturday, October 8, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown announced that he signed the second half of California’s DREAM Act (AB 131) into law. In July 2011, Governor Brown signed the first part of the Act (AB 130), approving private scholarships and loans for students who are undocumented immigrants. The second part of the Act permits undocumented immigrants who are eligible for in-state tuition to apply for state-funded scholarships and financial aid to state universities. The Act will be implemented in January 2013.
CA DREAM Act and Federal DREAM Act
Although both the CA DREAM Act and the Federal DREAM Act benefit undocumented immigrant youth who entered the US while still minors, the CA DREAM Act is different from the Federal Dream Act, which has not yet passed the House and the Senate. The CA legislation supports students only by providing financial aid for college education. In contrast, if passed, the Federal DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAM beneficiaries through college education or military service.
The CA DREAM Act is not the first of its kind to be passed by a state. Ten other states (Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) already have laws granting undocumented students access to public and private financial aid and scholarships for college education. Nine other states (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, and Rhode Island) are currently considering adopting similar legislation.
Benefits and Requirements
Supporters of the law recognize the value of educating undocumented youth both on humanitarian grounds and as an investment in one of the most promising sectors of California’s future work (and taxpaying!) force. For opponents, it’s a waste of an estimated $14 million in financial aid to non-citizens.
In order to benefit from the state-funded scholarships, DREAM kids must meet the following requirements:
- Graduate from a California high school after attending school in California for at least three years;
- Affirm that they are in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status, or sign an affidavit stating that they will apply to legalize their status as soon as they are eligible to do so; and
- Demonstrate financial need and meet academic standards.
Supporting DREAM kids through financial aid for education is a notable step in the right direction, but the Act does not address the most significant issue which DREAMers face – the absence of pathways to legalized status or work authorization. Only a significant change in the federal immigration laws, such as the passage of the Federal DREAM Act, will begin to address the true maladies of the shattered immigration system.
Getting it Right: Facts and Myths about the CA DREAM Act
FACT or MYTH 1: After the CA DREAM Act goes into effect, students in CA will be able to “legalize.”
- MYTH: The CA DREAM Act legislation is not a pathway to citizenship as its benefits are limited to expanding the availability of financial aid to undocumented students. Currently, there is no pathway to citizenship for any student without status in the US.
FACT or MYTH 2: Under AB 131, students who meet the requirements are eligible for all California State financial aid programs, including Cal Grants.
- FACT. A Cal Grant is available to DREAM-eligible students that meet GPA, parent income, and High School graduation requirements.
FACT or MYTH 3: After graduation, CA DREAM Act students will have work authorization.
- MYTH: Although attending college will become more affordable for eligible DREAMers who benefit from in-state tuition or financial aid, after graduating with Bachelors, Masters, and even PhDs, no DREAM student will be authorized to work, and the State of California will not benefit from taxes on the salaries of the potentially higher-earning college graduates.
FACT or MYTH 4: The California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants as a result of AB 131, at a cost of $14.5 million.
FACT or MYTH 5: The CA DREAM Act enables undocumented students to apply for federal aid programs such as FAFSA.
- MYTH: Select students will be eligible for Cal Grant funds and other state financial aid, but not Federal aid.
FACT or MYTH 6: Technical school graduates and graduates from adult schools are not considered eligible under AB 131.
- FACT: Some students are excluded from the benefits associated with AB 131.
FACT or MYTH 7: This is the first time the CA DREAM Act was proposed.
- MYTH: The CA DREAM Act was proposed in 2006 (SB 160), 2007 (SB 1), and 2008 (SB 1301). It passed in both houses but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger each time. In 2010 Gil Cedillo introduced the bill as SB 1460, which passed in both houses in August 2010, and has recently been signed into law by Governor Brown.