Dream Act hailed by local officials
Officials in the local community college district and immigrant rights activists are applauding the recent passage of a new California law that will make it possible for illegal immigrant students to apply for and receive financial aid from the state.
State Assembly Bill 131, also referred to as the Dream Act, will allow anyone to apply for state financial aid — regardless of their immigration status — as long as they meet certain requirements.
"The Dream Act has been a legislative priority of the Foothill-De Anza board of trustees for a number of years now," Becky Bartindale, a spokeswoman for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, wrote in an email to the Voice.
The new law requires those who wish to receive money from the state to have attended a California high school for three years or more, to have graduated from a California high school or attained an equivalent degree, and, if living in the country without documentation, have applied to become a citizen or plan to apply as soon as they are eligible.
"We are happy," said Shaila Ramos, executive vice president of the De Anza Community College student senate. Ramos, who was snuck into the country along with her parents when she was 2 years old, has been working as an active proponent of immigrant rights at De Anza — working as a representative and administrator for two student groups pushing for immigration reform.
"We have the right to have an education," Ramos said of herself and the many others like her in California and throughout the country.
It is a view not shared by the Center for Immigration Studies, a New York-based think tank that bills itself as being for lower rates immigration while simultaneously being pro-immigrant.
"I don't think that you can argue that it's a human right when we don't have a completely socialized education plan," Brian Griffith, a spokesman for CIS said. Griffith took the stance that ultimately when it comes to funding programs like Cal Grants — which, under the new law Ramos will be eligible for — it is a "zero-sum game."
Unless the state has an unlimited amount of funds, he reasoned, the new law will inevitably take money out of the hands of U.S. citizens.
But according to Lori Nezhura, legislative director for the California Student Aid Commission, the pool of money Dream Act students will draw upon for Cal Grant money won't run out. Though Dream Act students can qualify for both "competitive" and "entitlement" Cal Grants, Nezhura said, there is almost no chance any Dream Act students will be awarded a competitive grant, since priority for them goes to California residents and there aren't enough of those grants to go around. However, the state guarantees that all who qualify for an entitlement Cal Grant will receive a predetermined amount of money, therefore, those who qualify for these grants under the Dream Act will not diminish the money received by California residents, nor will they deprive them of grants.
One Mountain View resident has put his bachelor's degree from Santa Clara University to use in the non-profit sector, even though he is not a legal citizen.
Jose Ivan Arreola moved to Mountain View from Durango, Mexico when he was 4 years old. "It was an opportunity," Arreola said of his parent's decision to migrate north. "They wanted more for me. I think that was really their greatest wish."
Arreola has spent his entire life in Mountain View and was able to secure private scholarships that paid for his entire education at Santa Clara University.
He uses his degree in the volunteer work he does with Educators for Fair Consideration, an advocacy group that fights for the passage of laws like the Dream Act.
"I'm very fortunate to have a bachelor's degree," he said. "It is imperative that we progress and move forward with policies like (the Dream Act)."
While sympathetic to the plight that drives so many to sneak into the United States illegally, Griffith remained firm on his position that laws such as AB 131 will only serve to make illegal immigration more attractive. "Whether you call them illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants, they have committed fraud."
Neither Ramos nor Arreola, however, feel that they have done anything wrong. Both drive home the fact that they were not brought here by choice and that they only want the opportunity to be productive members of society.
"We're not here to steal," Ramos said. "We want to get an education and give back to our community." America, she added, is her "home."