Brown signs landmark DREAM Act legislation

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the second part of the California DREAM Act — a controversial piece of legislation which grants undocumented students access to state financial aid — into law Saturday.

The act, also known as AB 131, is the first such legislation to be signed into law in the nation. It builds upon AB 130, which was signed into law in July and allows universities to give private financial aid to undocumented students from their own funds. Both bills were authored by Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown said in a Saturday press release. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

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 the Saturday press release.

AB 131 will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

“It’s a moment that’s 10 years in the making,” said CalSERVE Senator Sydney Fang, co-author of the ASUC bill in support of the act. “This is just a really key step in the movement in making higher education accessible to all students, regardless of their citizenship status.”

AB 130 allows students eligible for in-state tuition under AB 540 — or those who fulfilled similar requirements — to receive scholarships derived from non-state funds.

AB 540 was intended to improve financial aid access to students who have attended and graduated from California high schools but are still subject to nonresident tuition, which includes — but is not limited to — undocumented students. Undocumented students were not eligible for Cal Grants or other state aid under AB 540, a key factor that led to the proposal of the act.

“We’re feeling really great,” said Conrado Terrazas, Cedillo’s communications director. “This has been a real big step for really helping the economy because students who may have once worked at McDonald’s now have opportunities to be doctors, teachers, architects.”

Assemblymember Tim Donnelly, R-San Bernardino, told the L.A. Times that he is planning a referendum drive to repeal the legislation and believes the issue will hurt Democrats in next year’s elections.

“Students who are in the country illegally cannot be legally employed in the State,” Donnelly said in a Sept. 9 open letter to Brown. “Therefore, this bill gives away false promises to students here illegally and imprudently spends Cal Grant dollars that could be invested in students who would eventually work in and pay into California.”

The act will affect a relatively small percentage of the UC’s student population. Of the 2,240 AB 540 students at the UC level, about 30 percent were undocumented, said Luis Quinonez, a legislative aide to Cedillo.

AB 131 was passed by the state Assembly last month and had since been sitting on Brown’s desk. Brown had until Sunday at midnight to sign or veto the bill.

“We value all the students in our state, and we are going to give an opportunity to high school students in California who want to make this their home, who want to be contributors to society,” said Jeremy Pilaar, UC Student Association board member and an organizer of a group who presented postcards to Brown last month in support of the California DREAM Act.