California Dream Act: 20,000 Illegal Immigrant Students Apply for State Financial Aid for the First Time

Katy Murphy, Contra Costa Times, March 8, 2013

More than 20,000 college-bound students are seeking state financial aid for the first time under California’s new Dream Act laws that allow them to get the help despite their immigration status.

While far from a complete picture, that number is the best indicator yet of how many students hope to benefit from a pair of laws that could radically change the college experience for a generation of students whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally when they were young—the same group that has taken center stage in the national immigration reform debate.

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As college-bound high school graduates await word of their state financial aid—Cal Grants—other kinds of help have begun to flow for students already enrolled in public colleges and universities.

In January, UC Berkeley freshman Jesus Lopez was one of many college students who under the same Dream Act began to receive campus grants or fee waivers based on need—help previously limited to legal residents.

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California was one of the first states to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who attended one of its high schools. Now, roughly a dozen do so. Only two other states—Texas and New Mexico—give financial aid to this group of students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. {snip}

Opponents, led by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, tried to repeal the California Dream Act last year, arguing the state can’t afford to support its legal residents, let alone those who entered illegally. The campaign didn’t gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

It will cost the state about $65 million a year by 2016-17 to extend the benefits to illegal immigrants and those granted temporary legality under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts. The estimate does not include campus aid administered by CSU and UC, grants funded mainly through tuition.

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