Second part of DREAM Act passes Senate vote

David Herschorn/File
Demonstrators protest during a march for immigrant rights down streets in the Berkeley area on May 1, 2009.

The second half of the California DREAM Act — which would allow undocumented students access to state financial aid — passed the state Senate Wednesday by a vote of 22 to 11.

AB 131, authored by Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, will go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote, the last hurdle before the bill lands on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

It is expected that Brown would sign the bill if it reaches his desk. One of his campaign promises — iterated many times on his path to Sacramento — was to sign both parts of the DREAM Act should he have the opportunity.

The passage of the bill — which would give undocumented students access to state financial aid programs such as Cal Grants — comes a little over a month after the first part of the state’s DREAM Act was signed into law by Brown.

That bill authorized public higher education institutions to give financial aid to undocumented students from their own aid reserves.

“It’s great,” said Ju Hong, an ASUC senator and undocumented student, upon learning of the bill’s success in the state Senate. “I would have a more open door to go to grad school and law school, to continue on to a professional degree and contribute more tax revenue to our economy.”

The vote went along party lines. Twenty-two Democrats voted for the bill, while 11 Republicans voted against.

Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, supported the bill on the Senate floor, saying that having more educated, tax-paying professionals would only help the state’s economy.

“(Undocumented students) should not have their future jeopardized by their illegal status,” he added.

Doug LaMalfa, R-Butte, opposed the bill on the Senate floor, saying that the state should focus on taking care of its citizens during the current financial crisis instead of giving aid to undocumented students.

Hong also said that ultimate passage of the bill — which, if it succeeds in the Assembly and is signed by Brown unamended, would take effect Jan. 1, 2013 — would not only help current college- and university-level undocumented students but also those still in high school.

“(High school students) won’t give up, (and) it will reduce the high school dropout rate,” he said. “More students will get involved in academia and get a higher education degree.”

Brown’s office declined to comment on whether he would sign the bill should it reach his desk. Samuel Chiu, an executive fellow in the governor’s press office, said in an email that it was the office’s policy to not comment on pending legislation.

The bill — which would alter the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, the framework upon which the state’s current public higher education system is built — would require the state’s Student Aid Commission, which provides California students financial aid for higher education, “to establish procedures and forms that enable  students … to apply for, and participate in, all student financial aid programs administered by the State of California to the full extent permitted by federal law,” according to the the bill’s text.

The bill also says that undocumented students would only be eligible for the competitive A and B type of Cal Grants if there are funds left over after all eligible California students have received their awards.

Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the university news editor.