CA Dream Act- Now Helping Undocumented Students
by Mandeep Chahal | University of California, Davis
In 2006, the California Dream Act began its long and arduous journey through California’s legislative branch. Since then, Dream Act eligible students, or Dreamers, have had their hopes for higher education slashed time and time again. The Dream Act has been proposed every year and every year it’s been stopped in its tracks by unbudging senators or vetoed by governors at the last minute.
On Saturday, October 8, 2011, these dreams were finally realized when Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act, AB1 131, into law.
The Dream Act has gone through various edits, additions, and deletions over the past 5 years, but the main goal remains the same: to grant financial aid to deserving college students.
There are over 25,000 undocumented students graduating from California’s high schools annually, many of them valedictorians and star athletes. These students are encouraged to pursue higher education but for many, this dream can never be realized because of the astounding tuition at California’s financially strapped colleges and universities.
Undocumented students in California are able to pay in-state tuition through AB 540, a state law that allows students who meet certain requirements to pay the significantly lower tuition granted to Californian college students as opposed to the exorbitant fees international students must pay. To qualify, students must:
A) Attend a California high school for 3 years,
B) Graduate from a California high school, and
C) Fill out an affidavit saying they will apply for U.S. residency as soon as possible.
However, in-state tuition, even at public universities, is often beyond what students can afford. In the past 2 years alone, the University of California has raised their fees by an astounding 40%. In the past 5 years, student fees have increased by $4,000. These hikes in tuition do not affect most students because their federal and state financial aid packages will cover the increases. For undocumented students, however, these increases can mean a fatal end to their education.
Undocumented students are ineligible for any federal grants or loans and are unable to legally work. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, who authored many early versions of the federal DREAM Act, describes the tricky situation many undocumented students face, “Many of these youngsters find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation. As (undocumented) immigrants, they cannot work legally. They are also effectively barred from developing academically beyond high school because of the high cost of pursuing higher education. In short, although these children have built their lives here, they have no possibility of achieving and living the American dream. What a tremendous loss for them, and what a tremendous loss to out society.”
The California Dream Act, which is split into two parts, AB 130 and AB 131, will grant undocumented students access to much needed financial aid.
The first part of the bill, AB 130, signed into law on July 25, 2011, allows students to apply for certain aid programs and private scholarships. These programs include the Board of Governors Fee Waiver and Institutional Student Aid, which varies by school.
The second part of the bill, AB 131, is the one that will really change the game for undocumented students. It allows students who meet the AB 540 requirements to apply for Cal Grants, which are funded by California and administered by the California Student Aid Commission. These grants are dependent academic and financial eligibility requirements and do not need to be repaid to the state.
The passage of the California Dream Act shows that California cares about all of its students, regardless of citizenship status. Undocumented students are here through no fault of their own, and face many obstacles throughout their path to higher education. Barring such talented and hardworking students from pursuing higher education is unjust.
In the words of Governor Brown, “Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking. The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”
As an undocumented college student, I couldn’t agree more. There are between 7,000 and 13,000 undocumented youth in California, and many of us know no other home. California invests in our public education for 12 years but then denies us access to higher education. The passage of the Dream Act is a huge step in the right direction. Higher education allows for an educated workforce, and for undocumented students to contribute to society.
Personally, as an undergraduate student, I look forward to graduating from UC Davis and continuing to medical school. I hope to become a pediatrician and serve those who otherwise may not have access to medical care. The passage of the Dream Act will make medical school possible for me, and I know it will help thousands of bright students become the nation’s future doctors, lawyers, and leaders.
Today, our country needs to support those who will be changing the world tomorrow.Mandeep Chahal is a Voices contributor for NextGen Journal. She is a junior at the University of California, Davis.