California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the second half of the state’s DREAM Act on Saturday, just days before the end of the legislative session. The law, AB 131, will allow qualified, immigrant students to apply for state-based financial aid through the Cal Grant program.
The legislation is a huge victory for youth organizers, education leaders, and immigrant rights advocates working in California to expand access to higher education for undocumented youth. Prior attempts to pass the bill were vetoed multiple times by the state’s former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite overwhelming support in the state legislature.
"The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us," Brown said in a statement.
Concerns over the bill’s projected fiscal impact created a divisive narrative in the media that nearly prevented it from becoming law.
What exactly will the new law accomplish? Here’s what you need to know:
1. AB 131 allows for undocumented students at public colleges and universities to apply for and receive Cal Grants, the state’s financial aid program. While these awards would still be distributed with priority to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, undocumented youth would be offered aid after those requests are met. The law also opens access to California’s Board of Governor’s fee waiver program, designed to help low-income students pay for school, to undocumented youth.
2. An estimated 2,500 students will benefit from AB 131. The cost is $14.5 billion—or 1 percent of the Cal Grant program‘s current funding of $1.4 billion, according to the California Department of Finance.
3. Potential beneficiaries must meet certain requirements to qualify. They must have graduated from a California high school (after having attended for three or more years), or earned the equivalent. Students must also prove to the college or university that they’re in the process of adjusting their legal status, or show that they plan to do so when avenues to citizenship become available.
4. The law does not create a pathway to citizenship or legal permanent residency for undocumented students. Under current immigration law, states do not have the authority to confer status to undocumented individuals. The federal version of the DREAM Act, however, includes such a provision and could create such a pathway if it is passed.
The new law will take effect in 2013. AB 131’s companion bill AB 130, which opens institutional aid to eligible undocumented youth, takes effect next year.