View Full Version : Undocumented kids seek aid of Congress

10-16-2007, 08:18 AM
They hope for DREAM Act after California's legislation is vetoed.
By Susan Ferriss - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 12:15 am PDT Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A4

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Disappointed that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the California DREAM Act this weekend, undocumented California college students and supporters say they will appeal to Congress for help with their predicament.

The students are pinning hopes on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his plan to reintroduce in November a bipartisan federal proposal that would allow undocumented kids to study or join the military to earn permanent legal status.

On Saturday, Schwarzenegger's office announced he was vetoing the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which was approved by the state Legislature earlier this year. The bill would have allowed some undocumented graduates of state high schools to seek non-competitive college grants and fee waivers.

An estimated 25,000 such high school students many of them brought to the United States as small children graduate annually from California high schools. Nationally, such graduates could number about 65,000.

If these students perform well enough to earn admission to college, California allows them to pay in-state tuition so long as they've lived here at least three years. But they are barred from loans or other financial aid.

Most of these students face impossible barriers to legal residency because they have no family tie or other avenue allowing them to apply for residency.

Top California university administrators and many business organizations supported the state bill, contending that the state badly needs more college graduates and that undocumented kids who grew up here have nowhere else to go and should be fully assimilated.

"We don't want free money," said University of California, Davis, student Marco Diaz, who arrived in California from Mexico when he was 8 years old and grew up in the Sacramento area. "We just need access to loans," Diaz said. Undocumented students, he said, are increasingly feeling walled in by their precarious status as conditions grow tougher for illegal immigrants.

A senior, Diaz is on the brink of withdrawing this quarter because he's short $2,000 in fees even though he works two jobs.

The governor, who has said undocumented kids shouldn't be punished for the actions of their parents, cited extra costs to the state as his reason for vetoing the bill.

Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, the bill's author, argued that the bill's cost would have been "minuscule" and that it would not have placed undocumented students in competition with citizens.

"The money is set aside already," Cedillo said, explaining that every year, a surplus remains after citizen students who are entitled to grants receive them.

Based on his calculations, he also said, his bill would have added $1.9 million to a total of $273 million in community college fee waiver subsidies.

Tom Mays, spokesman for the California Student Aid Commission, confirmed that historically a surplus has existed after grants are distributed $14 million last year, and $38 million the year before. That money, by law, is returned to the general fund.

But Aaron McLear, the governor's spokesman, said: "The larger point is there are limited resources within the state budget."

Last year, Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill Cedillo authored that would have allowed undocumented students to seek competitive grants. Cedillo said he cut those grants out of this year's bill to try to satisfy the governor's concern.

An undocumented UC Davis student who arrived from the Philippines when he was 5 said he was disappointed but not surprised by the veto, given the hostile climate toward illegal immigrants. "The federal DREAM Act is really the long-term solution," said the student, who is close to graduating with a genetics degree and too fearful of deportation to use his name publicly.

The federal DREAM Act would allow kids who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and lived here for at least five years to earn legal residency in six years if they graduate from high school and attend college or serve in the U.S. military for at least two years.

The last attempt to pass the federal DREAM Act failed in September, when senators couldn't garner enough votes to attach it to a military spending bill.

A population control group called Numbers USA organized a campaign against the proposal.

"I have no trouble looking at them in the eye, and saying, 'Too bad. Life is hard,' " executive director Roy Beck said of the undocumented students. Part of his opposition, Beck said, stems from his belief that the bill would lead to an amnesty for parents because the kids could later sponsor them for legal status.However, under current law, the children couldn't sponsor their parents until after they were citizens, which would take more than a decade.Oiyan Poon, president of the University of California Student Association, said Monday that her group will join the U.S. Student Association to urge the Congress to pass the federal DREAM Act while continuing to press for state reforms to help undocumented students.

"We did this work because we know that many undocumented students immigrated to California as very young children, and for reasons out of their own control they are currently undocumented residents of California," Poon said.

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