SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Illegal immigrants can now apply for state-funded scholarships and aid at state universities after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Saturday that he has signed the second half of a legislative package focused on such students.
AB131 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, is the second half of the California Dream Act. Brown signed the first half of the package in July; it approved private scholarships and loans for students who are illegal immigrants.
Under current law, illegal immigrant students who have graduated from a California high school and can prove they're on the path to legalize their immigration status can pay resident tuition rates. The bill would allow these students to also apply for state aid.
The contentious second half of the package requires that immigrant students meet the same requirements as all other students applying for financial aid at state universities but specifies that they only qualify for financial aid after all the other legal residents have applied.
"The signing of ... the California Dream Act will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration," Cedillo said.
"Dreams can come true. We have proved it today," he said.
Twelve other states, including Texas, New York and Washington, have passed similar bills allowing illegal immigrant students to apply for in-state tuition.
The bills are different from the federal Dream Act, which includes a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
Critics say the bills undermine immigration laws and encourage illegal immigration.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said the bill's passage will be the biggest mistake the Democratic Party makes.
"The polling indicates that 80 to 90 percent of Californians are against this, and it crosses party lines," Donnelly said. He said he hopes to get a ballot initiative overturning the law started as soon as the bill is officially included in state statutes.
He said the bill encourages illegal immigration because it creates an entitlement program for the thousands of immigrants looking for a way to stay in the country.
"It is absolutely, fundamentally wrong and unfair, and it is an insult to people who have worked and played by the rules, including those who have come to this country legally," he said.
Supporters argue that children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents shouldn't be punished.
Cedillo said the legislation will make California more competitive in the global economy by educating a workforce that has already shown resilience and leadership.