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Advocates push public aid for undocumented college students

Activists prod a California Senate panel to allow a floor vote on AB 131, which would give the undocumented access to $40 million in Cal Grants, community college fee waivers and other aid.

August 24, 2011|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • Luis Garcia, left, a Los Angeles high school art teacher, and other immigrant advocates rally in support of the California Dream Act at the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles.
Luis Garcia, left, a Los Angeles high school art teacher, and other immigrant… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Scores of students, teachers and other advocates for illegal immigrants are launching rallies, phone drives, petition campaigns and other actions this week for what they see as their best hope to win access to public financial aid for undocumented college students.

A small rally in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday was part of a statewide series of actions to prod a state Senate committee this week to allow a floor vote on AB 131, a hotly contested measure that would give undocumented students who qualify for reduced in-state tuition access to nearly $40 million in coveted Cal Grants, community college fee waivers and other public grant and scholarship programs.

Although similar bills have passed the Legislature since 2006, they were vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gov. Jerry Brown said at a Fresno campaign event last year that he supported a bill Schwarzenegger vetoed and that he would have signed it

Supporters said they expected Brown to fulfill his campaign pledge.

"Keep your promise, Jerry Brown!" chanted a small group of teachers and students with the Assn. of Raza Educators, a statewide network of teachers and other immigrant advocates who have raised $80,000 in scholarships for undocumented students in the last three years.

Roman Morales, a Cal State L.A. student of business management, manages to pay his tuition with a daily janitorial job but said access to aid would alleviate tremendous stress and help him graduate on time.

"It would be a huge load off of me," said Morales, 23, whose parents illegally brought him to Los Angeles from Mexico at age 4 for a better education.

AB 131 is part of a two-bill package known as the California Dream Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). Last month, Brown signed the first bill, AB 130, granting undocumented students access to $88 million in private scholarship aid.

But the public aid bill is more significant because the average amounts awarded are far larger. The Cal Grant program, for instance, provides up to $12,192 annually, while the average private scholarship in 2009-10 was about $3,500 for UC, $2,200 at Cal State and $1,000 for California community colleges.

Opponents say the financially distressed state can ill afford new benefits for anyone — let alone illegal immigrants.

"The Legislature is slashing programs and at the same time planning new ways to give benefits to illegal aliens," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It ought to outrage any law-abiding citizen in California."

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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