Fight for California Dream Act Not Over Yet
Update: August 26, 2011
The committee on appropriations in the California State Senate successfully passed an amended version of AB 131 yesterday. This means the real California DREAM Act is on its way to the Senate floor for a vote, where it is expected to pass.
Undocumented students in the state are one step closer to winning a critical victory that would help them continue their education in the face of skyrocketing rising tuition costs. Now we just have to make sure Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill when it reaches his desk.
Campus Progress will continue to inform you on the latest details of the campaign, as well as how you can get involved to make sure that California DREAM Act becomes a reality.
On July 25th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 130 – the first half of the California DREAM Act – into law. Its companion bill AB 131, however, was "placed on appropriations suspense file" in the state senate.
In other words, action on the bill is being stalled. Lawmakers are concerned about its projected costs to the state despite overwhelming evidence – as highlighted in a report by UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment – that show passing the legislation benefits the California economy and improves overall educational achievement in the state [PDF].
The looming August 25 deadline to get AB 131 out of suspense file and to the senate floor for a vote means time is running out to achieve meaningful action on the legislation this year.
While California DREAMers have already achieved significant wins – as early as 2001 when they first secured in-state tuition with AB 540, to just last month when they won access to institutional aid and private scholarships with AB 130 – access to state-based financial aid would address some of the most serious inequalities impacting immigrant youth in higher education.
AB 131, or what has been referred to as "the real California DREAM Act," would accomplish the following:
- Make undocumented students at the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC) eligible to receive to Cal Grants, or state-based financial aid. (Note: these would still be distributed with priority to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Only until these students secured aid would undocumented youth benefit);
- Make undocumented youth at community colleges eligible for the Board of Governors fee waivers that offer tuition relief for low-income students;
- Qualify undocumented UC students for university grants.
Grassroots support for AB 131 has swelled in key districts. Just last month seven undocumented young people were arrested for civil disobedience at San Fernando Valley College.
One of the activists arrested was Ju Hong, a student senator at UC Berkeley and one of a handful of undocumented youth elected to student government around the country, as Campus Progress reported in May. Hong and activists like him have worked to build support for this critical legislation, while raising awareness on the increased hostility facing immigrant communities in more conservative counties in the state. "We chose to protest in San Bernardino County because organizations like the National Socialist Party (Nazis), the Minutemen, and anti-immigrant legislators have been terrorizing immigrant communities," Hong wrote in a statement.
The urgency of the statewide youth-led campaign to pass AB 131 escalated after a vital announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) surfaced regarding the operatives of the unpopular Secure Communities program. The DHS memo invalidates existing memoranda between ICE and state and local governments to "opt-out" of the program that ineffectively expedites the detention and deportation process. Perhaps more troubling, the memo assures the program continues on a path to reach nationwide capacity and implementation by 2013. Various California immigrant rights coalitions have decried the announcement and have been holding press conferences to inform community members on the impact this policy will have in the state.
In response, youth organizers across California will ramp up their efforts as the August 25 deadline approaches to pressure target legislators – including State Senator and Appropriations Chairwoman Christine Kehoe – to get the bill out of committee and to the senate floor for a vote.
If passed, it would set a new precedent for immigrant youth in the fight for affordable higher education across the country.
Eduardo Garcia is advocacy manager at Campus Progress. Follow him @itseddie.