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Public aid bill for undocumented students sparks debate in Auburn area

State has responsibility to create skilled work force, professor says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local community members have clashing opinions about an assembly bill that would allow undocumented college students to apply for public financial aid, which could potentially cost the state millions more each year. Assembly Bill 131 is part of the California Dream Act. Gov. Jerry Brown signed its sister bill, Assembly Bill 130, this summer. AB 130 makes it possible for undocumented students to receive privately funded scholarships administered through California’s colleges and universities. AB 131 would make it possible for the same students to apply for public financial aid such as the Board of Governors, or BOG, Fee Waiver as well as Institutional Student Aid, which are grants administered by colleges and universities, according to legislative documents. These students could be eligible for the Cal Grant as well, but could not receive Competitive Cal Grant awards unless funding was still available after all California resident students received the Competitive Cal Grants they were eligible for, according to the documents. The bill states that these students would have had to graduate from high school after attending at least three years in California. If the legislation passed, undocumented students who apply for aid would have to show universities or colleges that they have applied for lawful immigration status or will as soon as they are able, according to legislative documents. According to legislative analysis, the state could pay up to $40 million each year for the bill. The Legislature recently passed AB 131, and it is thought that Brown will sign it. Students deserve to be part of education Christy Dyer, an English language development teacher at Placer High, said she sees the damage that is done to students when their parents immigrate to California and they go through the public school system, sometimes since kindergarten, and are still treated differently. Dyer said many of these students only think of themselves as American. “They deserve to be a part of the education system, and be able to continue that and become successful members of our society,” Dyer said. “There are kids who don’t even know if they are documented or not. Our push to have kids graduate from high school, and work hard and fulfill all the requirements, and then we say that’s as far as you can go — no.” Dyer said while not all English language learners are undocumented, she has seen the effect this status can have on those who might be. “I think if people worked with the students the way I do every day, and you see the feelings of hopelessness they get because of legal issues that are preventing them from doing what they need to do … it’s heart wrenching to tell a student who has been here since elementary school that for some reason they can’t go to college.” ‘It isn’t right’ Auburn resident Stuart Dodge, the education coordinator for the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, said he doesn’t think the bill is very good legislation. “I would first like to say that I think people are missing a lot of what is going on here,” Dodge said. “I have got a great deal of sympathy, for they may be illegal aliens but I have to feel if I lived the way they are forced to live in other countries, I would probably do the same thing they have done. Having said that, they are still here illegally and we are a land of laws. It isn’t right. If you want to come here, I don’t have a problem with that at all, but you shouldn’t have any of the welfare benefits that are given to the citizens of the United States.” Dodge said he thinks the bill could end up hurting others trying to pay for college as well as costing the state money it doesn’t have. “I think it’s going to cost the citizens of this country when they are trying to get an education. I think it’s going to cost more money. The state’s broke and this is just another piece of legislation that is going to make it more difficult for our own citizens to get along and have the money to take care of themselves.” Sierra College students debate topic Reyes Ortega, a counselor and history professor at Sierra College, said he thinks the legislation is long overdue. He said with nearly 38 percent of residents in the state being Latinos, California has a responsibility to make sure they can become part of the skilled work force. “If we look at it from an economic standpoint, this community has a real opportunity to contribute to the economic vitality of California,” Ortega said. “We have to make a decision of whether to employ preventative measures or maybe something more expensive like social service treatment strategies (in the future). If we do nothing … then we will find ourselves having to go down a path that is much more costly to us as individuals.” Ortega said he is getting a lot of feedback about the bill at the campus, from both Latino and non-Latino students. “As far as Latino students, there is a high level of excitement and anticipation,” he said. “From non-Latino students out of the classroom, no, but in the classroom we have really healthy conversations about the issue. We are talking about their classmates, if not in college, we are talking about their classmates while they were in high school. And we might also be talking about their coworkers and neighbors as well.” Ortega said a significant number of his non-Latino students are surprised a bill like this has not already been passed. How can the state afford it? Roseville resident Ford Davies, a member of the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, said his problem with the bill is the cost associated with it because he doesn’t think it fits with one of his group’s core principals: fiscal responsibility. Davies said the state is already desperate to find revenue, so another cost doesn’t make sense. “So from that point of view it’s very irresponsible,” Davies said. “I’m just wondering, where is the money coming from for all this? California, we are so deep in debt it’s not even funny, and they act like money is growing on trees.” The country needs an educated population Kaye Foster, an ESL professor at Sierra College said she thinks the country needs an educated population, especially in California, and she thinks everyone is entitled to that education. “We need them to be educated so they can step in and lead, so denying people education doesn’t make sense to me,” Foster said. Foster said a lot of students are having trouble paying for education now, and she thinks undocumented students could be having a harder time, because their parents could be working in low-paying jobs, and it could be more difficult to get assistance through other California agencies during the tough economy. “So this is a way to help them get out of that trap,” she said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com