California Dream Act Is a Step in the Right Direction for Undocumented Students

This past Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB130, a bill known as the California Dream Act that would open up private financial aid and privately funded scholarship opportunities to undocumented immigrant students who were bought to the country illegally as children. Undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition in California will be able to apply for $88 million in private scholarship funds administered by the University of California, Cal State University, and the California Community Colleges. The bill will go into effect January 1, 2012. AB130 is the first installment of a two-part package that would provide undocumented students greater access to funding for their education. The second bill in the package, AB131, is considered more controversial since it would allow the state to confer to undocumented students publicly funded scholarships and financial aid, including access to Cal Grants. AB131 is still undergoing discussion in the state Senate.

High School Grad.jpg Opponents of Dream Act legislation argue that granting financial aid to undocumented students would exacerbate the competition for already limited resources and state funds. While this is a legitimate concern, the California's public colleges and universities have expressed support for the bill, estimating that the state Dream Act would affect less than 1% of their current student population.

As a Californian, I support access to a California college education for those students who went to high school here and are going to remain in California, whether or not they are undocumented. It is ultimately in our own interest to generate a larger population of college graduates with higher knowledge and skills.

However, as an immigration lawyer, I have met with undocumented college graduates who cannot get a legitimate, professional job. As long as they are undocumented, they cannot legitimately obtain a job. Federal law requires employers to verify that all new hires are eligible to work in the U.S. Whether or not they are U.S. citizens, all new hires are required to produce documentation showing their identity, and that they are authorized to work in the U.S. (i.e. state driver's license and unrestricted Social Security Card; U.S. permanent resident card and foreign passport; work visa and foreign passport). Furthermore, federal contractors and subcontractors are required to submit a new hire's information through the E-Verify website to confirm the worker is authorized to work in the U.S. E-Verify is an online system that verifies an employee's information with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. An undocumented college graduate will have a college diploma, but will not have the documentation to show that they can work in the U.S.

As least for now. The federal Dream Act, totally different from the California Dream Act, would change this. The federal Dream Act would allow those undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children to eventually legalize their status. Students would have to graduate from high school and either serves in the U.S. military or attends college, and demonstrates good moral character. Bi-partisan, federal Dream Act legislation has been introduced in Congress over the past several years, in different variations. Although the specifics regarding length of residency in the U.S., age of students, possible fines, and military service requirements have varied from different proposals, the end result of a federal Dream Act law would be to legalize all those students who had no say in the matter when they were brought to the U.S. as children. The California Dream Act is at least a step in the right direction.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee