California is once again blazing the trails. A bill signed on Saturday will allow the state’s undocumented students to apply for financial aid, scholarships and loans, thus opening the floodgates for discussion between supporters, and opponents across the nation.
"Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking," said Gov. Jerry Brown in a statement, after signing the second portion of the DREAM Act, Assembly Bill 131, over the weekend in Sacramento.
The bill will go into effect Jan. 2013.
"The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us,” said Brown.
This statement could be applied to students like José Garcia, a 22-year-old Psychology major and member of the Homeboy Industries club at Santa Monica College, which enables young people to redirect their lives for their future.
During his sophomore year in high school, Garcia learned that he was an undocumented student, who despite his 3.8 GPA was unable to apply for scholarships and financial aid.
“When the acceptance letters from UCLA and other universities came in, I got discouraged when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go. My GPA dropped. Education shouldn’t be a privilege. It is a civil right,” says Garcia.
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.
Annie Dardon, a 19-year-old California resident, and Community College student who receives financial aid, worries that including undocumented students will lead to even less money for citizens. “It’s not fair. If you don’t pay taxes, you shouldn’t benefit, because you are not contributing to the system.”
Opponents of the bill argue that the money should be spent on students with legal status in light of California’s already tight budget.
Undocumented students will only receive financial support after legal residents have applied and been funded, leaving 1 percent of the overall Cal Grants to undocumented students.
Students at the community college level, become eligible for fee waivers, granted they fulfill residency requirements, and will be able to avoid non-resident tuition in the future going from $275 per unit, down to $36.
Sonya Allahyar, captain of SMC’s Speech and Debate Team says: “I’m happy because my best friend is illegal, and he is the hardest-working person I know. It will be easier for him because he has to support himself for school. With this bill, we are stepping into the right direction and moving forward as a whole.”
Fabiano Lee, an ethnic Korean who was born in Brazil, has been living in the United States for the last 15 years has to work under the table to afford tuition. “It was hard, because my mom is a single parent and she had to support my brother, who goes to a different school. Now I could get financial aid and support myself.”
Senate Republican Leader, Bob Dutton, State Senator of California’s 31st District, argued that the State of California does not have enough money to provide financial aid for documented students, let alone undocumented ones, pointing out that despite of the effort of the DREAM Act, students won’t be able to legally work after completion of their higher education.
“Some of these students, who have great intentions to try to improve their work skill sets, won’t be able to get their license, after going through a three year program, like an x-ray technology program for instance,” said Dutton, when addressing the Senate back in 2010.
Assemblyman and author of AB 131, Gil Cedillo, representative of the 45th District, focused on human equality, rather than numbers, when addressing the Senate back in 2009.
“When they are in the classroom, they don’t get a different exam for undocumented students, that is easier or harder," said Cedillo. "They don’t get different books or different course work. When they are in school, they pay the same tuition, go to the same science labs and libraries, and use the same resources, but we make it illegal for them to apply for scholarships."
Natividad Vazquez, Advisor of the MEChA club, which educates students on Chicano history, political and social issues, praised Gil Cedillo’s accomplishments during recent months: "I hate to say it, but he’s like a saint. He’s been at it for years, almost a decade."
The controversial bill has many facets; while opponents, such as Dutton, see future problems not covered by AB 131, supporters argue that the governor’s decision to sign the legislation into law, is a step into the right direction of California’s future, enabling deserving students to create a better life for them and their families.
Jesús Vásquez, President of Santa Monica College’s MEChA club, is an undocumented student, who was brought to this country at the age of 2.
Talking to the Corsair, Vásquez said: "All of us who are undocumented, we want to work, we want to help this country, because this is our country and the only home we know.”