Now that Jerry Brown has taken the gubernatorial seat, the California Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act will once again be up for passage. Likewise, the federal DREAM Act, a pathway for high-achieving, undocumented students to gain citizenship, will soon face a new Republican majority Congress. The results could affect students and veterans alike at UCSC and elsewhere.
Currently, many undocumented high school students are denied the opportunity to attend college due to lack of financial support. The only form of financial aid they are afforded falls under AB 540, a bill that states undocumented high school graduates who have attended a California high school for three or more years can pay in-state tuition — thousands of dollars lower than out-of-state tuition. In addition, without citizenship, graduates exit college with very limited choices, their only job options being those that do not require social security numbers. This essentially renders their degrees useless.
The California DREAM Act, if passed, would give undocumented AB 540 students equal opportunity to receive the same financial aid a citizen receives for any state college or university from the state of California.
Claudia Magaña, external vice chair of the Student Union Assembly at UC Santa Cruz, offered some insight on why the University of California Student Association (UCSA) has made passing the California DREAM Act its primary campaign this year.
“For every student that is enrolled in a UC, 32 percent of what we pay in fees goes into this pot for financial aid, and the financial aid is distributed based on merit to all students,” Magaña said. “Undocumented students pay into this, but they have no access to that money. So that’s a big issue.”
Magaña said that in September, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the act, it was the state’s large deficit that prevented the act’s passage. The act would add an estimated $40 million to the already increasing California deficit, according to an article posted in September on examiner.com.
“The main argument against it was a fiscal issue,” Magaña said. “The state is in a big deficit, and the governor said we couldn’t afford it.”
Still, Magaña has hope for the future of the DREAM Act not only for California, but on the federal level.
“We just contacted Jerry Brown’s office, and he said he’d sign it,” Magaña said. “What I really want to see pass is the Federal DREAM Act to give students access to citizenship. Because in the end, what are they going to do with their degrees once they graduate?”
Prospective applicants of the federal DREAM Act must have come to the United States before the age of 16 and hold a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Applicants must have lived in the United States for at least five years. Once accepted, the student will be set on a six-year track to citizenship, unlike the California DREAM Act, which only offers greater access to financial aid.
Another main benefit offered by the federal DREAM Act is that it expands aid and gives temporary residency status to people who plan to serve in the military, regardless of whether they have a green card.
Support for the act has come from an unexpected place since its first proposal in 2001, said Daniel Wilson, Veterans Student Support Coordinator for the Veterans Education Team Support (VETS) program on campus.
“In 2005, the Department of Defense listed the DREAM Act as a No. 1 priority, which is really odd,” Wilson said. “Because we were in two heavy wars at the time, we had recruitment issues. This act would increase recruitment.”
Although the DREAM Act potentially poses financial problems for students who are citizens of the United States, Wilson said, he believes the benefits for high-achieving undocumented people outweigh these costs.
“The argument against it would be that these people without citizenship are taking money away from the financial aid fund that could go to American citizen students,” Wilson said. “[But] my experience with the veteran community is that it is highly expected that people who serve in the military should receive citizenship.”
UCSC students have been fighting on behalf of these issues for a while. Third-year Chris Cuadrado, a Latin American and Latino studies major, took part in a protest at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office earlier this year, and is passionate about passing the federal DREAM Act.
“It will contribute to the decriminalization of undocumented persons,” Cuadrado said in an e-mail. “It will make state funding, like FAFSA, available to undocumented youth, ultimately alleviating the stresses of college life for AB 540 students.”
In Wilson’s opinion, both the federal and state DREAM Acts, though different, provide a chance to harness the potential of all the people who live in the United States, no matter where they hail from.
“Intelligence is evenly distributed across the planet. It doesn’t care where your parents are from or your heritage,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of smart people out there without support because of the decisions that their parents made.”