We had our doubts about state Sen. Gil Cedillo's California Dream Act, a bill that would extend state financial aid to undocumented students attending state universities and colleges. As originally drafted, it would have allowed them to compete for aid with -- and perhaps displace -- students whose immigration status was legal. And although we enthusiastically support humanizing this society for those who are here illegally -- in this case, many of them young people here only because they arrived with their parents -- taking that money out of other needy hands was too much for us to endorse.
Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), however, has tinkered with his bill and made it better. It has passed the Legislature and deserves the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We understand the objections that arise when a society extends benefits to illegal immigrants that once were reserved solely for legal residents. The easier life becomes for those who crossed our borders illegally, the more incentive there is for others to follow. And some question the prudence of providing scholarships for students who will not be able to work legally in this country, no matter how skilled or well educated.
But the benefits for the greater good outweigh these objections. Cedillo's bill doesn't jeopardize college for anyone -- it simply expands the universe of students we are willing to help. These particular students generally had no choice but to emigrate with their parents, and they have persevered and performed well in school. Aren't these the immigrants we most want to encourage and support? That their opportunities for higher education remain limited is just one of the many sad outcomes of immigration reform's demise in Congress.
This may strike some as soft-hearted sophistry. In fact, it is pure pragmatism. The program is a bargain: The Legislature already has funded grants for students going to the UC or CSU systems, so the only new line item would be the $1.9 million added to the existing $273-million budget for community college aid. The alternative is not: California can't afford to create a permanent underclass of underskilled, undereducated workers. Our looming labor shortages are real, and we will not be importing a new, better-educated population to fill those jobs.
We urge the governor to sign the California Dream Act for the present needs of these students and the future needs of the state.