Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill that will let students who entered the country illegally receive private financial aid at California's public colleges, even as debate continues over a more contentious bill that would allow access to public funding.
The Democratic governor signed AB130 at Los Angeles City College. It is the first of a two-bill package referred to as the California Dream Act, which is aimed at getting financial aid for college students who entered the country illegally.
"It's crucial that we invest in every child that lives and is born in this state. Signing this Dream Act is another piece of investment in people because people drives the culture, the economy," Brown told a crowd of about 100 students and community leaders who gathered inside the city college's library. "This is another piece of a very important mosaic which is a California that works for everyone."
The governor did not address the second bill in the package, which is more contentious because it would allow illegal immigrants to receive state-funded scholarships and financial aid. That bill, AB131, is in the state Senate.
The legislative package authored by state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, differs from the federal Dream Act, which would include a path to citizenship for those bought to the country illegally as children.
Critics of the package say granting public or private financial aid to illegal immigrants will force citizens and students who are here legally to compete with them for limited resources. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said California's public colleges and universities have already had to raise tuition fees in the face of recent budget cuts.
"Bottom line is California doesn't have enough money to take care of its obligations to its citizens right now," Donnelly said. "The people, who if they're lucky enough to have jobs, certainly would like those limited resources to go to their children or grandchildren. They certainly wouldn't want that to go to people who come here illegally."
Cedillo said he admired the students without legal status because of the obstacles they have had to overcome. He said allowing students to qualify for private scholarships and financial aid is one step that will help them get through college.
"Public education in this great state and this great country is a great equalizer of society," he said.
California's community college and public universities systems support the bill, noting that it affects less than 1 percent of their student population. According to the University of California, fewer than 80 students across its system of more than 220,000 students would be affected by the bill signed Monday.
The California State University estimated that some of the 3,600 students who have permission to pay in-state tuition rates even though they lack legal documentation could be affected by the new law. The CSU system enrolls about 440,000 students.
At least one student who stands to benefit from the California Dream Act said an education will improve his perspective and quality of life even if he'll still have trouble finding work out of college. Rigoberto Barboza, a 21-year-old from Mexico who studies sociology at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., said the new law could help him take more courses and finish sooner.
"Education is the only way to free from oppression _ this oppression we illegals live with," he said. "Education allows me to see which laws affect us and how."
Associated Press writer E.J. Tamara contributed to this report from Los Angeles.