The dreary weather painted a sharp contrast to the mood in Eshleman Hall, as undocumented students and supporters celebrated the passing of the second part of the California DREAM Act at a press conference Monday.
“Anytime a ‘DREAMer’ publicly identifies themselves, they draw the risk of deportation,” said Blanca Mendez, a UC Davis alumae and co-founder of the Bay Area DREAM Act Coalition, at the press conference.
Amid chants of “Undocumented and unafraid,” several undocumented students stepped up to the microphone to tell their stories and elaborate on their reactions to the passing of AB 131.
“I was in disbelief when the act passed,” said Catherine Eusebio, an undocumented student from the Philippines and UC Berkeley senior who is involved with Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, at the press conference. “When I first set foot on this campus, it was love at first sight. But every night I would have to worry about paying for the next day.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2013, AB 131 makes undocumented students who graduated from a California high school and have affirmed they are in the process of applying to legalize their immigration status eligible to apply for Cal Grants and other state aid, according to Brown’s Saturday press release.
Mendez spoke highly of Brown’s decision despite the significant political opposition towards the bill. She said her own collegiate experience was marred by incessant financial woes, forcing her to complete her degree at a glacial pace, eventually finishing in eight years.
“We expect some unhappy residents, but this is an important step forward,” she said.
The event drew nearly as many television cameras and reporters as supporters — and a sea of eclectically–colored umbrellas, which crowded the entrance to the press conference.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who has been a vocal supporter of the California DREAM Act, was invited to the press conference but opted instead to send a written statement.
“This act gives talented and ambitious young people the same opportunities as all Californians,” he said in the statement. “This reframes the national conversation and will contribute to the vitality of California.”
The speakers sought to dispel the widely held belief that AB 131 exclusively benefits illegal Latino immigrants, pointing out that almost half of all those who will benefit from this legislation are of Asian descent.
Based on Eusebio’s personal experiences and those of her fellow undocumented students, she said she believes fewer students will have to drop out of UC Berkeley for financial reasons now that AB 131 is on the books.
The California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 additional students will qualify for Cal Grants as a result of AB 131 at a cost of $14.5 million — about 1 percent of all Cal Grant funds — according to Saturday’s press release.