Students Push Gov. to Pass Immigrant Aid Bill

    With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now considering a bill that would allow undocumented students to qualify for financial aid, many UC students — including some at UCSD — have staged demonstrations over the past three weeks to lobby for the legislation’s approval.

    The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — better known as the D.R.E.A.M. Act — was passed by the state Legislature three weeks ago following several years of debate. Two weeks later, Schwarzenegger has still not signed the bill, provoking an Oct. 1 rally led by the UC Student Association at the state capitol. The group urged action on the item before it expires in a month.

    In conjunction, the Migrants Rights Awareness Organization at UCSD camped out on Library Walk on Oct. 4, asking students to call the governor’s office to express their opinion or sign petitions supporting the bill.

    “In order to make a living, you have to have an education first,” said Sixth College senior Tara Ramanathan, who called in her support for the bill.

    UCSA has been working along multiple channels to codify the D.R.E.A.M. Act.

    “We’ve had a couple of actions,” UCSA Organizing Director Jennifer Knox said. “We were able to collect over 300 signatures.”

    Following the rally, UCSA is planning to urge students to lobby in their district offices as well.

    The D.R.E.A.M. Act was written to allow undocumented students — a demographic that currently cannot apply for financial aid — to become eligible for non-competitive Cal Grants and community college fee waivers. According to Grecia Lima, a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt College and MRAO member, access to competitive Cal Grants was not included in the bill because Schwarzenegger vetoed an earlier version of the act containing those provisions. At the time, Schwarzenegger expressed concerns about taking financial aid away from documented students and citizens.

    The Entitlement Cal Grants are guaranteed to all students that recently graduated high school, are pursuing a two- or four-year degree, and demonstrate financial need. Funds for the program are allocated based on the number of eligible students graduating from state high schools.

    Since many undocumented students graduate high school but do not continue on to higher education, not all of the allocated money is being used. According to Lima, only 68 percent of the money for the Cal Grants is currently in use, leaving enough funding to provide financial aid for undocumented students.

    The D.R.E.A.M. Act builds on Assembly Bill 540, which was passed in 2001. Under that legislation, undocumented students who graduate from a California high school in three or more years and sign a statement pledging to apply for residency as soon as they are eligible are awarded in-state tuition at any California state college or university.

    Despite the reduced tuition costs for eligible students, the university still estimates that there are only 340 to 632 undocumented undergraduate students and five to 11 graduate students in the entire UC system. The figures are not exact because undocumented students apply to college without providing their Social Security numbers, but there are cases of documented students doing the same.

    “The university doesn’t really know because we don’t ask that question,” UCSD Financial Aid Director Vincent De Anda said.

    The UC system has supported access to higher education for undocumented minors, including AB 540 and now SB1. University officials sent a letter to the governor’s office last month expressing their support for the D.R.E.A.M. Act.

    “[The D.R.E.A.M.] Act is more a fairness issue … here is a student that spent all their life here and worked hard to get in, but when they’re set to go [to college], they can’t get the funding,” De Anda said.

    Students have until Oct. 14 to lobby for the D.R.E.A.M. Act’s passage before the bill expires and will have to be reintroduced in the state Legislature next year. The U.S. Congress has also been debating a similar version of the bill for the past few years.

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