By Erin Delman
Students at Union know all too well the pressure of increasing tuition rates. Attending a top-notch, private liberal arts institution almost guarantees unpaid student loans and mounting post-graduation debt. Recent protests from London to Chile have put the cost of education at the forefront of media attention. Yet how many Union students are aware of the education battle being fought on American soil?
AB 130 and 131, collectively known as the California Dream Act, have been at the head of Californian politics for months. In July, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 130, effectively granting undocumented college students access to $80 million in privately funded scholarships. He currently must decide on the bill’s second, and perhaps more contentious, component.
If he signs AB 131, recently approved by both the state legislature and assembly, Brown will allow access to public funding for college to undocumented Californian students who have resided in-state and attended public high school for a minimum of three years. Authored by Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), the bill would provide financial aid in the form of community college district fee waivers, institutional aid from CSU and UC schools, and access to Cal Grants, allotting undocumented citizens $38 million in state education assistance.
[pullquote]The passage of the federal Dream Act, which will provide students with a path for citizenship, will removeeducated but undocumented residents from the underground economic limbo in which they currently reside.[/pullquote]
According to the New York Times, if Brown signs the bill, California will provide undocumented residents “with more education benefits than they have in any other state.”
Clearly, immigration is a polarizing issue, and the California Dream Act has received serious criticism and acclaim from Californian residents and politicians. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), calls the bill “absurd,” positing that it will cost the state tens of millions of dollars at a time when the public school system faces ten to twelve percent tuition hikes, and budget cuts in the excess of one billion dollars.
Yet, many of the opponents’ economic concerns are unfounded or inflated. The $38 million price tag only represents only one percent of the state’s total $3.5 billion for college financial aid; furthermore, not allowing undocumented citizens to attend college will undoubtedly undermine California’s economic growth by generating a permanent underclass. Similarly, it seems illogical for a society to abandon students after supporting them through twelve years of public preliminary education.
Also, ensuring that all students get a college degree promotes long-term economic success. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, projections to 2025 “suggest the economy will continue to need more and more highly educated workers, but the state will not be able to meet that demand.” Extrapolating current trends shows that while 41 percent of jobs in 2025 will require a college degree, only 35 percent of working-age adults in California will have one.
Clearly, the aforementioned paradox elucidates further implications of the California Dream Act. Even if Brown approves AB 131, undocumented residents still will not be able to seek legal employment in the state. While pro-Dream Act activists applaud the progressive initiatives of California, they look toward Obama to end his equivocal and ambiguous stance on immigration. The passage of the federal Dream Act, which will provide students with a path for citizenship, will remove educated but undocumented residents from the underground economic limbo in which they currently reside.
The Dream Act has been endorsed by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, UC Berkley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Stanford’s President John Hennessy, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and agricultural leaders. It would mark a huge step for equality within the public education system as well as tear down certain cultural barriers for undocumented residents.
Despite the acclamations, certain sensitivities must be addressed, particularly with regards to the legal-Californian student body. To avoid xenophobic frustrations, care must be taken to assure that all students admitted to the UC or CSU system are done so based on merit, and not race or background. The education system has increased its enrollment of out-of-state students to generate revenue; thus, in-state, legal residents fear further disadvantages to admission as the Dream Act moves forward.
Regardless, the California Dream Act strongly demonstrates one of the many issues that pervade the topic of immigration. It serves as further proof that this country is in desperate need of a comprehensive and progressive immigration reform, and it should encourage the current administration to finally tackle the bipartisan and pertinent issue.