Illegals may get more ed aid

JUNE 23, 2010


The Assembly Higher Education Committee considered the SB1460 California Dream Act this afternoon, a law that would extend the ability to apply for state financial aid to illegal immigrants.

AB540, enacted in 2001, extends the in-state tuition discount for public higher education to illegal immigrants. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, described the state’s contradictory policy in an analogy.  “It’s like saying we can both buy a Rolls-Royce, equally.  But if I don’t have the resources, it’s not going to matter.”  Cedillo believes we should extend the opportunity to apply for public and private financial aid to illegal immigrants, which is currently against the law.

“We want people to become prepared, and we want people to be good citizens,” said Cedillo, defending state investment in K-12 education for illegal immigrants. “We do that at a considerable cost, because we are a forward-looking state.”  (Actually, because a federal court overturned Proposition 187.)

The law has already been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger three times since first introduced in 2005.  He explained his most recent veto: “Given the precarious fiscal condition the state faces at this time, it would not be prudent to place additional demands on our limited financial aid resources as specified in this bill.”

The fourth version’s chances face significant challenges.  Voters are unusually sensitive to illegal immigration policy issues, their worries exacerbated by the poor economic outlook as well as the politically-charged law recently enacted in Arizona.

The ACLU and numerous education groups are supporting the bill.  Opposition includes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Californians for Population Stabilization. A representative from the latter expressed the views of his organization, contending that aid would be given to illegal aliens at a cost to needy citizens and taxpayers.   “They already receive subsidize in-state tuition.  This program could cost the state $38 million a year.”  And considering the budget crisis, it would be “less than responsible to give tens of millions of dollars to illegal aliens.”  David Wolfe, speaking on behalf of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is also concerned with the bill’s financial effects.  “Allowing any undocumented student to qualify for financial aid decreases the likelihood that Cal Grants and other tools will be available for the over 100,000 legal students who apply annually,” said Wolfe.  “Instead of rewarding illegal behavior and placing a new financial burden on California taxpayers, let’s ensure that we first meet the challenges posed by our citizens.  [A] 30 percent tuition increase and a $20 billion General Fund deficit dictate that we simply cannot afford this bill.”

But the bigger issue, at least for Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, is whether the state of California should be investing in the futures of people who legally cannot get a job after graduation.  “Right or wrong, that’s the current status of federal law,” said Norby.  And businesses that do hire illegal immigrants can be punished, and possibly seized by federal asset seizure laws.   On May 25, a San Diego restaurant was raided, and federal authorities are pushing to have the business seized.  The owner could face 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $3 million.

Cedillo responded, “We need to be prepared for the moment when immigration reform takes place.  We’re sure it will happen before this administration leaves.”  He commiserated with the assemblyman about the effects of ineffective immigration policy on small businesses.

Both Cedillo and Norby agreed that the federal government needs to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.  Congress has worked on but failed to enact a federal DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to fill out a FAFSA and receive federal aid.  They show no signs of moving forward on either issue soon.

If Schwarzenegger should reject the law a fourth time, proponents of the law shouldn’t expect a more sympathetic ear from Meg Whitman if she’s elected. Whitman, although her recent advertisements might suggest otherwise, is no friend to illegal immigrants seeking higher ed. On her Web site, Whitman proposes to “ban the admission of undocumented students to UC, CSU and California Community Colleges.  As governor, Meg will support policies that will not allow undocumented immigrants to state-funded institutions of higher education, such as UC, CSU and community colleges.”

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