Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Support the DREAM Act

Fernando Romero

he California DREAM Act will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk on Sept. 4, prompting supporters of the bill to advocate for its ratification which would allow undocumented AB-540 students to apply and compete for financial aid at California publi- colleges and universities.

Supporters of the bill urge the Governor for approval of SB-1301, the California DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act which has already passed both the State Assembly and Senate.

The bill serves as a supplement to Assembly Bill 540, allowing students to apply and vie for financial aid at California public universities and colleges without the use of the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). AB-540 students cannot receive government financial aid to pay for college.

The Governor has vetoed two similar legislative proposals in the past, saying undocumented students might take financial aid resources away from U.S. citizens. Previously, the bills included state-funded financial aid such as the Cal Grant. SB-1301 excludes the Cal Grant and targets financial aid administered by individual institutions.

José Moreno, Chicano & Latino Studies professor at CSULB said the bill is about providing equal opportunity in higher education for all students in publicly-funded schools. "I think the bill’s principle is about equity and fairness."

Moreno added that all public schools have a responsibility to educate students regardless of their immigration status. "We expect all our kids to do well in school and we tell them to dream big and to be whatever they want to be. We have kids trying to get a college education and here they are and we tell them, ‘we can’t help you, you’re on your own," Moreno said. "I think that’s morally wrong."

SB-1301 would not call for additional state funds or the creation of a new state program to fund it. The bill would not affect state-funded financial aid and will rather be institution-based. Each college and university is allocated a certain amount of aid and monies from the state and is free to implement them freely; including university grants, scholarships and work study programs.

The Immigrant Rights Coalition, based in Long Beach, will schedule a rally on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Universalist Unitarian Church on Atherton St. and Bellflower Ave.

Annette Quintero, IRC volunteer, said the program will include guest speakers, two testimonials from AB-540 students as well as the collection of pens (to symbolize the 25,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year), letters and signatures to be sent off to Sacramento advocating ratification.

Quintero said the approval of SB-1301 is the right thing to do because it would alleviate the financial burden of thousand of students seeking college degrees. "The previous bill was based on more of a macro-level. The only difference is that this bill will only be an impact at the university level, not statewide," Quintero said.

Moreno said the passing of SB-1301 will be beneficial to California’s economy. "From a moral, educational and economic ground, it makes a lot of sense," Moreno said. "This bill allows AB-540 students to not only be allowed to stay in school, but to pursue their dream, better their lives and contribute to society."

Both Moreno and Quintero are expectant SB-1301 will be signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The bill is economically-sound and fiscally-responsible. It has the support of the UC Regents, CSU Board of Trustees, CCC, the Governor-appointed Postsecondary Education Commission which oversees policy governing higher education in the state, the UC and CSU student associations and the California Teacher’s Association, among others.

Moreno said, " I don’t see what rationale the Governor can have to not sign the bill." Moreno said there may exist an underlying anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment evident should the Governor veto SB-1301. "To deny this, it makes me believe it is discriminatory. I don’t know what else it could be, but anti-immigrant and anti-children," Moreno said.

The CSULB professor tied in the California DREAM Act with the pro-immigration movement and cited compatibility between the two. Moreno said the immigration-reform movement is an important social issue that requiring resolution.

Moreno said, "I think the immigration movement is a human and civil rigths issue."

Moreno added that it was especifically true for a demographic of minors who had no choice when their parents emigrated to this country and are now trying to better their lives with higher education.

"The conversation about immigration should be about being humane. Immigration reform is about being just and is also about the dreams of children," Moreno said. "AB-540 students, by going to college, will contribute more to society and the economy and become the kind of immigrant that the country will want." ¶

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