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California Dream Act's opponents gather signatures

They want a November ballot initiative to repeal the Dream Act, which gives illegal immigrants access to state financial aid at public universities and community colleges. There is a January deadline.

December 18, 2011|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times
  • About 15 students demonstrate in downtown L.A. in support of the DREAM Act in this 2010 photo.
About 15 students demonstrate in downtown L.A. in support of the DREAM Act… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

In the parking lot of a closed Pasadena restaurant, a handful of tea party volunteers huddled under a tent to escape a sudden downpour of rain.

They were there to gather signatures to repeal AB 131, or the California Dream Act, which gives illegal immigrants access to state financial aid at public universities and community colleges. The rain smudged their signs, they were shouted at by a driver who called them racist, and the turnout was lower than they'd hoped.

But they were undaunted. On their side were a radio campaign and a small number of determined folks who arrived steadily despite the weather.

When the state Dream Act was signed into law in October, it was greeted with cheers by those who felt it would give undocumented youth a much needed opportunity to succeed. It has also inspired anger and dismay among many who believe that the state should not spend scarce resources on illegal immigrants.

"It's ironic they want to use education dollars for foreign nationals when they're raising tuitions for U.S. citizens," said volunteer Ernie Arnold of South Pasadena.

The effort to repeal AB 131 was launched almost immediately after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino), who started the campaign, said his office received more than 20,000 emails requesting petitions and opportunities to volunteer in the first week and a half after the petition was filed.

Since then, the assemblyman has become a staple of conservative talk shows and a champion of those who seek repeal. He's traveled the state attending gatherings like the one in Pasadena, which have had mixed results.

In order to get an initiative on the November ballot, those opposed to the Dream Act must submit more than 500,000 valid signatures by the first week of January. Whether they'll meet that goal is unclear.

Their effort has been largely grass-roots, led by tea party groups and other volunteers and buoyed by some paid signature gatherers, Donnelly said. They've raised more than $100,000 and distributed thousands of petitions, but organizers are waiting until the petitions are returned until they will say how many signatures they have, he said.

How such a ballot initiative would do at the polls is also unclear. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey found that a majority of voters (55%) opposed the act and that there was a huge ethnic divide on the issue, with 79% of Latinos showing support compared with 30% of whites.

In defense of students who would benefit from the act, supporters argue that they came to the country through no fault of their own and are trying only to educate themselves to better their lives. Not educating those students, many say, will cost the state in the long run.

The California Student Aid Commission, which administers Cal Grants, concluded that the Dream Act would cost the grant program an additional $13 million in the first year, and the California Legislative Analyst's Office has said costs to the grant program could total about $50 million by the 2016-17 school year. Community colleges would incur additional costs of up to $15 million a year, depending on how many students demonstrate financial need, the analyst's office said.

To those gathered in Pasadena last week, the idea of the state providing such funds for illegal immigrants is simply wrong. Several drivers who pulled over to sign their petition agreed.

Luis Paredes, 41, of Azusa saw the signs that said "Repeal the California Nightmare Act" and stopped on his way home from a construction job in Oxnard to sign the petition. He pointed at his nephew, a student at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, who waited in the car.

"Why are we doing this when there are so many other kids who need our help?" he asked.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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