Cal Students Rally in Support of DREAM Act

Cal Students Rally in Support of DREAM Act

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Student groups at the University of California system are campaigning to support two state Assembly bills, AB130 and AB131, introduced this January and collectively known as the 2011 California DREAM Act.

UC Student Associations (UCSA) have collected more than 11,000 signed postcards since February and plan to deliver them to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for approval later this month.

UCSA Communications Director Christine Byon said the group is trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting to deliver the postcards in person to Brown, who had spoken in favor of the Act during last year’s election campaign. DREAM Act supporters can also sign a petition to the governor through the UCSA website.

The first of the bills, AB130, allows qualified undocumented students to receive institutional financial assistance, while the second, AB131, would make such students eligible for state-administered aid.

Neither bill allows undocumented students to compete for federal aid, and unlike the federal DREAM Act that failed to pass Congress last December, the state version of the bills will not change the immigration status of undocumented students.

While the full Assembly approved AB130 on May 5th, the Assembly's appropriations committee  suspended AB131 in April, due to concerns over its fiscal impact on the state. Another vote is scheduled for the end of this month.

“It’s not just our bill, but many other bills that have been suspended,” said Conrado Terrazas, deputy communications director for state Senator Gilbert Cedillo, author of the DREAM Act bills. With concerns over the state’s fiscal health paramount, Terrazas said that “any bill related to expenditure of money” will need to be further reviewed.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll pass the DREAM Act this year,” said Ju Hong, an undocumented political science major at UC Berkeley.

Born in South Korea, Hong came to the United States with his mother at the age of 11 on a tourist visa, and only learned of his immigrant status while applying for college.

“I grew up just like any other American kid,” Hong said, adding that after being accepted to several prestigious UC schools he instead had to enroll in community college because of financial difficulties. He eventually transferred to UC Berkeley, but not before becoming the first undocumented student body president at Laney College in Oakland after publicly announcing his immigration status via a “coming out” video on You Tube.

Hong, who was recently elected to the Associated Students of UC Berkeley (ASUC) Council, is also a member of Cal Students for Equal Rights (CalSERVE) and Valid Education, a student group founded in 1984. “I plan to leverage resources to increase access to grants and scholarships to ensure that everyone has an equal chance at opportunities regardless of immigration status,” said Hong in a campaign statement.

“I know a lot of friends that didn’t know they were AB540 students,” said Johnny Garcia Vasquez, referring to the 2001 bill that qualified certain undocumented students for in-state tuition at California high schools and colleges. An ethnic studies junior at UC Berkeley, Vasquez said that while he is not an AB 540 student himself, he is an ally of them.

As a member of the UCSA board, he has helped organize students to testify before the state’s Higher Education Committee in support of the bills.

Vasquez said UCSA is also organizing student campaigns urging supporters to phone legislators in Sacramento and speak in favor of the DREAM Act.

Marion Lopez, a political science major at UC Berkeley, said passage of the bills would certainly open up more opportunities for him, adding that as an AB 540 student, he not only faces financial difficulties, but is also under substantial psychological pressure.

“While my ‘documented’ counterparts are able to plan their futures with a strong sense of conviction and entitlement to a bright future after graduation, I am stuck thinking about how I am going to get by this week and the next,” said Lopez in a blog post on Voto Latino, an organization that advocates for political engagement of Latino youth.

Past attempts to push through legislation aiding undocumented students has been met with strong opposition. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the DREAM Act last October, saying in his statement that "given the precarious fiscal condition the state faces at this time, it would not be prudent to place additional demands on our limited financial aid resources as specified in this bill."

Such disclaimers overlook the fact that both AB130 and AB131 clearly state that undocumented students are eligible for state-administered financial aid “only if funding remains available after all California students [residents and citizens] have received Competitive Cal Grant A and B Awards that they are eligible for.”

“I understand that we’re in a budget crisis and it’s hurting everyone, including citizens and international students,” Hong said. “But we have to look at the broader picture. If education is prioritized we may not have to contend with the current problems.”

Last year, the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA conducted a study on the economic benefits of the federal DREAM Act. According to the group's findings, passage of the Act would lead to an estimated $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion in increased tax revenues paid by beneficiaries of the Act.

Another study conducted by the RAND research institute found that the average Mexican immigrant woman who graduates from college as a result of the DREAM Act would likely increase her pre-tax income at age 30 by more than $13,500 per year.

Hong believes that the California DREAM Act would benefit the state in similar ways.

“We should pass the California Dream Act so students can give back to our communities, not only through professional skills but also through taxes,” he said.

Hong says he hopes to pursue a degree in immigration law in the future and strive for the rights of undocumented immigrants.