California lawmakers have attempted to give qualified undocumented immigrants access to state scholarships and grants for five consecutive years. Each time, however, a gubernatorial veto has cut short legislative efforts. Now, Gov. Jerry Brown has the opportunity to break with the past. He should do so by signing AB 131, part of a two-bill package known as the California Dream Act.
The measure would allow illegal immigrants who graduate from a state high school and demonstrate both merit and need to apply for publicly funded scholarships and other state aid. A bill passed last month already allows these deserving students to apply for privately funded scholarships.
Brown the candidate backed the Dream Act, but since taking office he has suggested that the state's current budget woes could persuade him to withdraw his support. That would be a shame. AB 131 isn't a drain on the state's coffers but an investment in its future.
These students were brought here illegally, through no fault of their own. They aren't seeking welfare but rather an opportunity to attend college and contribute to the only home most of them have ever known. California has already invested in these students, most of whom graduated from public schools. Barring such promising young men and women from financial assistance to attend college would only help push them into a permanent underclass.
Undoubtedly, some people will oppose providing state aid to illegal immigrants at a time when tuition is rising for all students and California's public colleges and universities are struggling to survive the economic downturn. But barring them from aid is both shortsighted policy and foolish economics that would rob California of future skilled workers who can pay taxes and fill jobs left vacant by aging baby boomers expected to retire in the coming years.
AB 131, however, is only a partial solution. If it is enacted, these undocumented immigrants would be allowed to earn a degree but still would not have the right to work here. Only Congress has the power to pass legislation providing a path to legalization and a green card. So far, federal lawmakers have declined to do so, and they are unlikely to produce any such bill in the near future. At least California lawmakers can offer some hope for students who want to pursue the American dream.