ASSU and GSC student government representatives remain divided over an undergraduate senate bill expressing support for the California Dream Act. The bill failed to pass the Graduate Student Council (GSC) on Oct. 5 after coasting through the Undergraduate Senate unanimously.
The bill, rejected by a majority of the GSC over concerns about illegal immigrants’ employability, would have authorized ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 to lobby for California Governor Jerry Brown’s passage of California Assembly Bill AB 131, otherwise known as the Dream Act.
The act, signed into law by Brown on Oct. 8, is part of a legislative package referred to as the California Dream Act, which authorizes illegal immigrant students who meet GPA requirements, graduate from a California high school and enter the U.S. before age 16 to apply for state-funded financial aid.
“It’s extremely important for undocumented students because it allows them more open access to educational opportunities,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, professor of law and director of Stanford’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. “It signals that there’s now statewide recognition that undocumented students should have equal access to opportunities, and that the state itself has recognized that need.”
After a national version of the bill was rejected late last year in Washington, D.C., California’s passage of the controversial measure is a vindication for proponents of access to higher education for undocumented youth.
“It’s going to be critical,” Srikantiah said. “It sends a signal that these students are welcome, part of our communities and ought to be attending California public universities as members of our state.”
“It was a difficult vote,” said Manish Choudhary, a second-year engineering graduate student and public relations and communications director for the GSC, where the bill was defeated 2-4. “But when you make a law, [illegal aliens] should not get an advantage.”
This advantage would be over international students, who do not have access to financial aid from public funds.
“I can’t really say much. I was upset,” said ASSU Senator and the bill’s co-author Brianna Pang ‘13. “But they voted, and they have every right to vote.”
“At Stanford, I feel like [the California Dream Act] is more of a symbolic thing,” she said. “With most Stanford students, they get private financial aid from Stanford anyway. But the passage can also set the tone for the overall national conversation about the national Dream Act.”
The majority of the GSC, however, cast aside symbolism to examine the Senate bill from a practical angle.
“People who are here illegally will have access to state funds, and people who are here legally will not have access to the funds–that doesn’t sound right,” Choudhary said. “And [students] will not be able to find jobs because they do not have the legal right to work.”
“I felt like a lot of opinions on undocumented immigrants were uninformed,” Pang said. “I feel like a lot of GSC members didn’t necessarily know that much about citizenship and the Dream Act itself.”
Srikantiah echoed the Undergraduate Senate’s vote.
“We have to take a step back here and revisit the…issue, which is that the reality of our immigration system is that there are tens of millions of undocumented people in this country, and many of those are children who, as a practical matter, are going to be spending their lives in [the U.S.],” she said.
“We have to think about how we treat members of our community and [whether] we want to be encouraging them to get higher education,” she continued. “I think the answer to that question has to be yes.”