Over the weekend California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 131, the second half of the controversial legislative package known as the California Dream Act. Together, these laws allow certain undocumented immigrants in California to apply for financial aid to attend public colleges and universities in the state. Previous law already allowed undocumented students to pay resident tuition rates as long as they 1) graduated from a California high school 2) after attending for at least three years and 3) signed an affidavit that they had applied to legalize their immigration status (or intended to do so once they are eligible). AB 130, the first part of the legislative package, which was passed in July, allowed undocumented students in the same category to take advantage of privately-funded scholarships which the California Board of Regents administers. The new law allows them to apply for state-funded aid as well.
In short, the California measures allow undocumented high school graduates to apply for the same financial aid which citizen and legal residents have long enjoyed. These measures are distinct from the DREAM Act which has been debated in Congress over the last decade. That proposed federal legislation would provide certain undocumented students with a possible road to citizenship.
The California Dream Act is a welcome and positive change in the law which will allow some undocumented Californians to access higher education in the nation they grew up in. However, it is merely a baby step compared to the potential good that Congress could do by making a way for these students to legally contribute to our society after they finish their education.