The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act of California was passed in two parts this past year. Seeking to financially aid youthful illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States before the age of 16, the piece of legislation has invoked major controversy.
Advocates argue that the act serves as an investment for the nation’s future, as the undocumented students could become legalized and contribute to our nation in the future. However, the second part of the bill entails eligibility of these students for state-funded scholarships. Many students and parents who are legal citizens fear that this access is unfair and creates more competition in an already cut-throat contest for financial aid.
The portion of the Dream Act signed last November, AB 131, stipulates that starting January of 2013 undocumented students will be eligible for state-funded financial aid at community colleges as well as CSU and UC universities. This proposal has been much more polarizing than AB 130, the first portion signed in July that enabled these same students to receive privately-funded aid. There are the typical divides: 79 percent of Latinos supporting the bill as opposed to 30 percent of whites, and 53 percent of Democrats versus 23 percemt of Republicans.
Students are also speaking out. Many believe that the Dream Act is a positive development that would allow underprivileged students to achieve their academic goals. However, others argue that competition for financial aid is difficult already and that the fight for scarce funds will become even more hopeless.
Students and their parents believe it is unfair that they must pay taxes for state financial aid that they may not even receive. Meanwhile, the undocumented students have equal access to the aid without the burden of taxes. I myself am a student at and will be applying for colleges later this year. The vast majority of these schools will be in the UC system, and I will thus be involved in the same fight for financial aid. While I believe that students who express a desire to learn and contribute positively to our nation in the future should be given every form of assistance possible, the state of California must find a way to implement the Dream Act in a better way.
A separate fund could be set up, tuitions could be reduced, or the amount of grants given could be increased. As it stands, our state is in a dire educational situation and we must be responsible when dealing with added expenses. A figure from the United States Student Association Foundation estimates that 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year, and that these students represent a mere 2 percent of all high school graduates. Although the number of applicants may be small, they will undeniably increase competition and the state of California must account for it.
Tuitions continue to rise at exponential rates, now at about $6,521 for CSU and $13,200 for UC. We need some form of relief, and increasing competition for the same limited funds does not fit the bill. As manager of the largest economy in the United States, the California government must act decisively and consider funding students rather than luxury car companies like Fisker.
In July of last year, governor Jerry Brown signed the first part of the Dream Act titled AB 130. This portion of the bill was designed to remove barriers that undocumented students typically face when applying for privately funded scholarships. Received with much more support than the second portion, AB 130 is appealing in that it provides much-needed aid to undocumented students seeking to succeed. These students, once legalized, can contribute to America’s future in a highly positive way. They can enlist in branches of the military and benefit our economy.
A recent study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center found that with the DREAM Act in place, the income of undocumented students could potentially reach $3.6 trillion over a 40 year period. This is opposed to $1.4 trillion over the same period without the DREAM Act, and in addition the individuals in question would remain undocumented. Therefore the controversy is centered not on whether we should prevent support of undocumented students who demonstrate interest in becoming educated, but rather the fairness of allowing them the same access to state funds as legal students.
Our state government must demonstrate their true support of education and immigration reform by allocating funds from questionable causes such as electric cars and extensive bureaucracy. Undocumented students would contribute positively to our nation’s future and should undeniably be legalized. However, we must implement the policies of the Dream Act in a way that will not harm any student’s opportunity to receive financial aid.