SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Illegal immigrants could receive college financial aid under legislation approved Thursday by the Assembly and apparently destined for the desk of a new Democratic governor who supports the concept.
California could add fuel to national debate over illegal immigrants' rights by signing into law the "DREAM Act" measure, AB 131.
"This bill will ring across the country," Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, a Democrat, told dozens of Latino supporters of the bill after Thursday's 51-21 vote.
The bill would allow a small segment of illegal immigrants -- those who currently qualify for in-state college tuition -- to apply for aid from private gifts or endowments that totaled more than $62 million last year.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo proposed AB 130 and a pending companion measure -- AB 131 -- that would open the financial door wider by allowing those illegal immigrants to seek Cal Grants and other public aid.
Cedillo, a Democrat who has pushed the issue for six years, called Thursday's vote historic because of prospects that the Democrat-controlled Senate will pass and California Gov. Jerry Brown will sign one or both of his bills.
On the campaign trail last year, Brown, heavily supported by Latinos, expressed support for college aid to illegal immigrants. He has not taken a public position on AB 130, however.
Evan Westrup, Brown's spokesman, said Thursday that the "governor continues to support the principles behind the DREAM Act and will closely consider legislation that reaches his desk."
Laura Alvarado, a 17-year-old undocumented student from Los Angeles, said she dreams of becoming a doctor and knows that her mother, employed at a yoga college, would be hard pressed to pay the tuition tab.
"I was really happy," Alvarado said of Thursday's vote. "I was about to cry."
Cedillo's bills would apply to students who have attended a California high school for three years or more, obtained a high school or equivalent degree -- and, if they are illegal immigrants, commit to legalizing their status if given the chance.
Supporters said it makes no economic or moral sense to deny scholarships to bright illegal immigrants, many of whom grew up in California, received a public education, thrived academically, pay taxes, and could fill key jobs in years to come.
Opponents counter that giving aid to undocumented immigrants would reduce the pool for legal residents and provide incentive for others to cross the border illegally. Federal law bars businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, regardless how educated they are, opponents note.
Members of the group targeted by AB 130 represent only 1,941 students at the University of California, 3,633 at California State University and 38,302 at community colleges. Of those totals, illegal immigrants comprise about 32 percent of UC's figure and an unknown but perhaps higher percentage from the other two systems, a legislative analysis of AB 130 said.
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