Governor signs measure giving illegal immigrants college aid

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday granted illegal immigrants access to state financial aid at public universities and community colleges, putting California once again in the center of the nation’s immigration debate.

But he vetoed a measure that would have allowed state universities to consider applicants’ race, gender and income to ensure diversity in their student populations.

Deciding the fate of 50 education-related bills, the governor also rejected an effort to make it more difficult to establish charter schools. But he accepted a move to improve college life for gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgender people and a measure to restrict the privatization of libraries.

None of the other proposals, however, has drawn the attention – or rancor – surrounding the California DREAM Act. Most Republican legislators voted against it, and anti-illegal-immigration groups denounced it as unfair.

Brown’s signature on the bill fulfilled a campaign promise to allow high-achieving students who want to become citizens the opportunity to attend college, regardless of their immigration status.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” Brown said in a statement. “The DREAM Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

Beginning in 2013, illegal immigrants accepted by state universities may receive assistance from Cal-Grants, a public program that last year provided aid to more than 370,000 low-income students.

The new law also makes students who are not legally in the country eligible for institutional grants while attending the University of California and California State University systems. And it permits them to obtain fee waivers in the community college system.

Students must graduate from a California high school after attending school in the state for at least three years and must affirm that they are applying to legalize their immigration status. They also must show financial need and meet academic standards.

The bill was by Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who praised Brown for showing courage in signing it.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative groups assailed Brown.

“It’s morally wrong,” said GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. “We have just created a new entitlement that is going to cause tens of thousands of people to come here illegally from all over the world.”

Donnelly said he plans a referendum drive to repeal the legislation and believes the issue will hurt Democrats in next year’s elections.

The governor’s actions came while Congress is gridlocked over immigration reform and followed efforts by other states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, to tighten laws on illegal immigration.

But in 2001, Texas Gov. Rick Perry allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities. And earlier this year, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn approved private financial aid for illegal students and allowed them to enroll in state tuition savings programs.

“There’s division of opinion among the states about what to do about immigration,” said Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis School of Law. “We will continue to get these types of differences until Congress comes up with some kind of federal immigration reform and starts to answer some of those questions in a national, as opposed to a state, way.”

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