Aid for Illegals on Gov.’s Desk

    Legislation that would make illegal immigrants eligible for financial aid at California public colleges is waiting a decision by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    The bill — named the California D.R.E.A.M. Act — extends more rights to undocumented students, which legislators estimate numbered almost 600 across the UC system last year.

    Currently, those students are allowed to obtain in-state residency status if they meet certain criteria, including attendance at a California high school for at least three years. However, undocumented students are not currently allowed to compete for state aid, which bill author Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said limits opportunities for students who usually need financial relief the most.

    “These students, among the best and the brightest young minds in our state, should not be punished for their parent’s pursuit of greater opportunities,” Cedillo stated in a press release.

    During its Senate approval in late August, the legislation was attacked for being “unfair” and “flat-out wrong.” The passing vote in the Legislature was mainly split along party lines, with most Republicans in opposition. Assemblyman and Minority Leader George Plescia (R-San Diego) took issue with the fact that, if passed, the bill would give undocumented students rights not granted to out-of-state students, who must pay higher fees and are not eligible for state aid.

    “This is a slap in the face to any student who is here legally,” said Morgan Crinklaw, Plescia’s spokesman. “California has students who are from Arizona, the Midwest and everywhere around the nation. Is it fair to let them get cut in line for financial aid?”

    The bill’s passage would mean granting incentives to criminals at the expense of other California students, Crinklaw said. The cost of providing aid to illegal immigrants in the UC system would be $3.7 million, legislative analysts estimated.

    The governor has not released any statements on the bill, but supporters are hoping he continues a trend of providing state help to undocumented youth. Schwarzenegger signed the current state law, which allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates, in 2002.

    In 2005, a group of nonresident students sued the UC system, claiming that they were unjustly charged with higher tuition rates than illegal aliens.

    In the lawsuit, which could cost the University of California hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, over 40 plaintiffs contend that the university system is violating a federal law passed in 1996 requiring colleges provide the same level of aid to nonresident and undocumented students.

    For 2006-07, UC officials estimated that non-California students paid an extra $18,168 each in tuition and fees, but total costs for 2007-08 could increase.

    In addition, the bill would allow undocumented students at state community colleges to apply for fee waivers.

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