Illegal immigrants will be able to apply for financial aid and merit-based scholarships to help pay their way through California's public colleges and universities, now that Gov. Jerry Brown this weekend signed the state's groundbreaking and controversial Dream Act, which ramps up existing allowances for the students in question.
Since 2001, California law has extended in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants as long as they have attended a California high school for at least three years, earned a high school diploma or GED and have proof that they are working to obtain citizenship. Under rules newly signed by Brown, beginning Jan. 1, 2012, illegal immigrants can apply for and receive scholarships derived from non-state funds and, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, for financial aid partially comprised of state funds.
"The future of California's economy depends on the ability of these students to graduate, to perform well and to contribute. This creates an opportunity," Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the 2012 measure, told ABC News affiliate KABC-TV.
Dream Act supporters have said they also will push for illegal immigrants to become eligible for driver licenses, a next move in a bid for full U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Therein lies the problem, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigrant Studies, a non-partisan Washington, D.C., research organization whose tagline is "Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant."
"The reason [the Dream Act] matters," Krikorian said, "is that it's an attempt to legitimize the presence of illegal immigrants. … People say, 'How can you object to letting the young people who are living here get tuition?'
"That's a different debate than the one over whether or not to legalize immigration. … The point of [the Dream Act] is not to give financial aid to a few students but to create political momentum in Washington for amnesty for all illegal immigrants."
Resistance to laws akin to California's Dream Act remain considerable, Krikorian said, citing a November 2012 Maryland vote on a law, approved in April, that would extend in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students who can show that they, or their parents, paid taxes during the past three years.
It also required Illegal immigrant males to enlist in the Selective Service System for being drafting into the military.