California Dreamin': Financial Aid to Illegal Immigrants

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California makes the news, yet again, for joining Texas and New Mexico in rewarding illegal behavior. Last weekend, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act, or AB 131.

The new law gives illegal immigrant students “on the path to citizenship” access to the state’s public financial aid and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Proponents of the Dream Act are rejoicing because Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown signed for their long-awaited legislation; opponents are in disbelief.

Upon the passage of the first half of the Dream Act in July of this year, California Assemblyman Jeff Miller (R-Corona) expressed his disillusionment with Governor Brown, “This legislation, in no uncertain terms, subsidizes higher education for illegal immigrants. “

AB 131 would give students already sheltered by AB 540 the opportunity to apply for and receive financial aid from the state of California. Illegal students will now be granted access to Cal Grants, among other state aid programs, in order to pay their tuition costs.

Illegal students are already subsidized under AB 540, a law that makes them eligible for in-state tuition, thus paying about two and a half times less than what an out-of-state student would otherwise pay. (The University of California website shows tuition for residents is $13,200 and out-of-state students pay $36,078, that’s an additional $22,878.)

The reported cost of AB 131 is at least $13 million. Although, judging from the economic dire straits of the Golden State, these numbers seem to reflect the bottom of the projected estimates.

In my phone interview with Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), he assumed the real cost will be triple that, as most state expenditures end up costing three times as much as originally predicted.

For the record, Assemblyman Donnelly, whose firm stance on immigration has alienated him from a number of state legislators, won’t back down: he intends to file a referendum against the Dream Act.

The fiery debate over AB 131 has reached UCLA, where the school newspaper published a number of articles dealing with the Dream Act in the past couple of weeks – to their credit, a few pieces were against this costly legislation – but they seem to lack an understanding of the facts.

An apparent misconception is that illegal students would have access to financial aid once the aid has been dispersed to California residents, thus not taking any money from legal residents.

Assemblyman Donnelly explained it clear and simple: “There’s no way this could happen.”

When applying for financial aid, the student need not display his legal status. This makes it impossible for the California Student Aid Commission, the administrator of financial aid, to distinguish illegal from legal students. The concept of putting illegal students second in line is therefore very unlikely.

The school paper is also making an effort to avoid using the word “illegal,” which doesn’t appear even once. The reason for the reluctance of using the term that’s used in every court of law, Connelly says, is that “they don’t like to call things what they are because then they’re going to have to do something about it.”

No one is disputing that these students’ statuses are complex and multi-faceted, but by facilitating their way through higher education, the problem is not getting any easier.

Just what are illegal students supposed to do once they graduate from college? College diplomas don’t magically turn into Greencards or Social Security Numbers, so these students are going to continue being illegal.

The argument in favor of the California Dream Act, and even the national Dream Act, is that these students will be assets to society and as such, they’re a great investment.

Supporters are forgetting to analyze where the payoff of such investment will be. These students will remain illegal and unable to work. Their solution is to wait for a Federal Dream Act or some kind of amnesty to pass for there to be gains from this risky investment.

I’m absolutely not suggesting that the children of illegal aliens can’t get an education because they’re illegal. But when the state is drowning in a debt of close to $375 billion, rewarding illegal immigrants by subsidizing their tuition (which is rising for everyone) does not seem to be the best idea.

Not only is the bill financially irresponsible, but it worsens the problem of illegal immigration: what’s to motivate people from immigrating legally if it’s much easier to reap the benefits of illegal immigration?

At UCLA, most student organizations support AB 131; perhaps the only exception is the Bruin Republicans Club, the only right-of-center club. All clubs, including Bruin Republicans, are carefully and thoroughly studying the legislation to be better equipped to argue one side or the other.

“When you go to school with illegal students, this is an issue that cannot be ignored,” said one member of Bruin Republicans.

But one thing is certain, the unclear financial implications of AB 131 unite the very diverse Republican club in opposition of the new law.