California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act into law on Saturday, making illegal immigrants eligible for state money to attend US universities and colleges, his office said.
Under the act, illegal immigrants who have attended high school in the Golden State can receive Cal Grant aid, which last year gave grants to more than 370,000 poor students of an average US$4,500 each.
“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking. 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.
California officials estimate that about 2,500 students will qualify for the grants under the new state legislation, called AB 131, costing US$14.5 million, Brown’s office said in a statement.
The overall Cal Grant program is funded at US$1.4 billion, meaning that only 1 percent of all the program’s money will be potentially impacted by AB 131 when the law goes into effect, it said.
Brown, a veteran Democrat, took office in January, succeeding Republican actor turned former California governer Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had vetoed the legislation.
The passage of the law in liberal California, which has a massive immigrant population, could be seen as a signal to lawmakers in Washington, over the controversial Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The federal DREAM Act would give a six-year resident’s permit to high school graduates who came to the US illegally and let them pay the much cheaper residents’ tuition rates or obtain a scholarship to attend a US university.
It would affect 55,000 immigrant children brought to the US illegally by their parents who have been through the public school system only to find college off-limits because of their legal status and high tuition fees.
Backers of the federal DREAM Act say the US should encourage youths to pursue higher education as a key to their own and the nation’s economic success.
However, opponents say it would send a message to migrants that it was acceptable to come to the US illegally and should not be passed without a thorough reform of US immigration rules.
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