On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 130, known as the California Dream Act. This bill will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for financial aid as well as merit-based scholarships in order to pay their way through California’s public colleges and universities. The bill will come into effect in July 2012, with an estimated cost of $40 million a year.
Dream Act supporters have rallied behind Brown, arguing that this will benefit California’s economy. With the aid, these students will perform well, graduate, and make much-needed contributions to society. The California Dream Act website shows pictures of graduating students holding up signs such as “Future Doctor” and “Future Marine.”
Meanwhile, those who oppose the act cite budget cuts at public high schools and universities across California as evidence that the funds can better be used elsewhere. In 2009, in-state tuition for the UC system rose 32%. As a result of the state’s budget crisis, course registration has become difficult for students, and admissions have been cut. “Things have gotten much more competitive over the past couple of years,” says Tony Bui, a senior at UC Irvine. “Not only has admissions gotten more difficult, it’s also competitive to register for classes, and many often do not get into the classes they need.”
The Dream Act’s detractors argue that the state should not use taxpayer dollars to fund programs for illegal immigrants while such problems riddle the education system. Additionally, many argue that these individuals take jobs away from native citizens. One more undocumented “future doctor” equates to one less “future doctor” position for legal residents.
So who’s right, and who’s wrong?
At public universities, tuition is on the rise and the number of classes is decreasing due to budget cuts. A great number of legal citizens and immigrants alike cannot afford a college education, and many students graduate in five or six years, when they have the intellect and capability of earning a degree in four years.
From a humanitarian standpoint, it would be ideal for the government to finance education for undocumented immigrants. Such a system would simultaneously aid those who face the hardships resultant from being brought to the US illegally while contributing to the innovative potential of our labor force.
So whom should the government prioritize, undocumented immigrants or legal citizens? The answer may be a qualified “both.” There is a better way of executing this than what the California Dream Act currently entails. The government should allocate its funds first and foremost to those who are here legally. They should be given the necessary aid to gain a college degree in a reasonable amount of time.
However, our education system should not turn away all those who do not have documentation. Indeed, we should actively seek to retain those who have shown the most potential. Undocumented immigrants who graduate in the top 10% of their class should be given the aid to continue their education. These individuals have proven their ability to excel, and deserve the opportunity to continue developing their skills in order to better contribute to our economy.
This compromise would better serve California’s current budget as well as the community of illegal immigrants. If our country really wants progress, we should strive to support dreamers, especially when those dreams are likely to be realized with a little help.