California Dream Act signed, becomes law

By Edgar Lopez

The second half of the California Dream Act was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last Saturday, which allows undocumented students to receive state financial aid starting 2013.

Assembly Bill 131, which was more difficult for the Senate to pass than the first bill, AB 130, allows students to apply for and receive financial aid, tuition fee waivers and Cal-Grants if they meet certain requirements. This would take effect on January 1, 2013.

AB 130, which was signed into law on July 25, allows students who meet the requirements to receive scholarships from non-state funds, but not California state funding, starting Jan. 1.

However, the California Dream Act prevents AB 540 students from receiving financial aid  when funds run out.

“These are young men and women who we have made an incredible investment in. We’ve paid for their education from K-12… and now we want to protect that investment by permitting them to apply for scholarships,” said California Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of the 45th district and author of the act.

The act was first introduced to the Senate in 2006 and later reintroduced as two bills, this January. With the act, Adriana Aguilar, a mentor for ELAC Students for Equal Rights club and an AB 540 student, said it would make it easier for students to advance in their education.

“When one transfers to Cal States or UC’s, we know we’ll have help,” said Aguilar.

Mike Sanchez, a student and a founder of the East Los Angeles College Coalition, said he always asked himself when the California Dream Act would be approved and signed into law.

Tony Sandoval, adviser to Movimiento Estudiantal Chicano/a de Aztlan club, said, “well, it’s been on the table for a long time.”

The main reason it took long to be signed into law was because previous attempts to pass the act were vetoed by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Aguilar said that AB 540 was supposed to provide the same financial aid opportunities that AB 131 is meant for. She said that the wait has been about 10 years.

“It’s one of those historical breakthroughs. I felt this innerexplosion of joy,” said Sanchez.

When he told his friends of the signing of the law, he said there were tears in their eyes.

Sanchez and Aguilar said that it took a lot of work as they and others did massive calling to legislators to try to pressure them into approving the act. Sanchez said it was a constant battle and that at one point the ratio was 10-1 against the act. Sanchez said a key to raising awareness about the act was through reaching out to communities.

He said that even if people did not have time to participate in protest or demonstrations, they could still help by using social media tools. Sandoval said that although he agrees with most of the California Dream Act, he found certain issues that he disagreed with.

He said that he did not agree with the military clause of the act and that information of underage children would be available, so that the military could try to enlist students. Aguilar said that she only hoped that the act would pass in the form so that all undocumented students could qualify for aid, rather than just AB 540 students.

Despite the fact that not all undocumented students can qualify, “Jerry Brown really illustrates California as a stepping stone,” leading the nation toward becoming a place of equality, Sanchez said.

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