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California Could Make The Dream Act A Reality

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California Could Make The Dream Act A Reality

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California Could Make The Dream Act A Reality

California Could Make The Dream Act A Reality

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California could give state-funded financial aid to undocumented immigrants in college. The bill, called the California Dream Act, is working its way through the state legislature. Proponents say kids who arrived illegally shouldn't be punished for their parents' decisions. Opponents say the state can't afford the benefit, and that it will only lead to more illegal immigration.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Another piece of legislation that could wind up in the courts is under consideration in California. Illegal immigrant students in that state's colleges may soon be eligible for state-funded financial aid. A bill called the California Dream Act is working its way through the state legislature. It would allow students who attended at least three years at a California high school to apply for financial aid.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has our report.

CARRIE KAHN: Sofia Campos came to California when she was six. Her parents brought her and her two younger siblings from Peru. Campos said she had no idea her family had overstayed their visas. She didn't find out she was here illegally until she was ready to go to college.

Ms. SOFIA CAMPOS: When I was 17, I tried to apply for federal financial aid. So I asked my parents for the Social Security number, and that's when they had to tell me that I didn't have one.

KAHN: Campos has two more quarters at UCLA. She says it's been hard to pay the $4,000-a-quarter tuition. And that's just for her. Her brother is also in college at the University of California, San Diego. And her little sister starts UC Santa Barbara this fall.

Ms. CAMPOS: So we're all in the UC system. We're all undocumented. My sister was three when she came. My brother was, like, four-and-a-half. So we're American in every sense of the word, and obviously, we got into good schools and we're trying to make it here.

KAHN: As many as 40,000 illegal immigrant students a year could be eligible for the state aid.

Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who authored the bill, says through no fault of their own, these kids were brought to California. He says they've been educated in California schools, have been admitted to state colleges. It's not fair to tell them now they can't get scholarships or aid like other students.

Assemblyman GIL CEDILLO (Democrat, California): It makes no sense to invest in a child K through 12, and then undercut that investment by making their higher education more difficult by not providing funds that we provide for all other students.

KAHN: Cedillo says after graduation, many students will figure out a way to apply for citizenship, and will fill professions that California will sorely need.

But Republican legislator Tim Donnelly says the state's finances are so dire, it's ludicrous to be giving money to illegal immigrants - though, he says if he were a father of three living in a poor country, he would come to California, too.

Assemblyman TIM DONNELLY (Republican, California): They will give my children a K-through-12 education, which I can't get in my home country. Then on top of that, they will provide instate college tuition and financial aid. Where does it end? Are they going to buy me a car next?

KAHN: Assemblyman Donnelly, who's made illegal immigration a political priority, didn't have the votes to defeat the bill. Neither do the Republicans in the State Senate. And Governor Jerry Brown is on record supporting the California Dream Act.

Even with the state's multi-billion dollar deficit, it's not hard to find supporters. On the UCLA campus, fellow student Tierra Tearmore, says she's watched many of her friends who are illegal immigrants struggle financially to stay in school.

Ms. TIERRA TEARMORE: But yet, and still, they have some of the highest GPAs, these amazing majors and minors and they're phenomenal students. I think they absolutely deserve the right to an education.

KAHN: But student Justin McCurdy, who emigrated legally from Canada, says before illegal immigrants get the funds, they should have to pledge to stay in the state and work here.

Mr. JUSTIN MCCURDY: If you're going to bend the rules for people, you've got to make sure they're going to have a positive influence on the future.

(Soundbite of door opening)

KAHN: Student Sofia Campos says she hopes the financial aid comes soon. She's opening the doors of a small food bank that was started recently in a closet in the UCLA Student Center. It's filled with cups of noodles, canned soups and bagels.

Ms. CAMPOS: Last night, I ate one of the cups of noodles. So it got me through my night.

KAHN: She says after paying California's high college tuition, there really isn't much left, even for food.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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