US Senate Rejects Act That Would Give Undocumented Students Aid

Photo: Kendra Navarro, right, speaks about how her life would have been improved if the DREAM Act had been passed by the Senate. Manjula Kariyen, center, and Maya Franklin, left, observe.
Allyse Bacharach/Staff
Kendra Navarro, right, speaks about how her life would have been improved if the DREAM Act had been passed by the Senate. Manjula Kariyen, center, and Maya Franklin, left, observe.

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After the U.S. Senate failed to pass a federal act Tuesday that could have put over two million illegal immigrants brought into the U.S. as children on a path to citizenship, Maria Belman joined dozens of others in a cramped classroom at UC Berkeley Wednesday to discuss how to pass the act.

Belman would be entering her third year at UC Berkeley this fall, but because she is not a citizen and thus does not qualify for financial aid from the state, she has withdrawn from the school amid rising fees - for the second time since she enrolled two years ago.

"It has always been a question of money," she said at a public hearing organized by the activist group By Any Means Necessary. "It has never been a question of grades."

Belman is one among thousands of undocumented students in the UC system that could have been eligible for citizenship - and received thousands in state and federal financial aid - if the federal DREAM Act passed.

The act was first introduced in 2001 and has failed at the federal level once before. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed two similar bills at the state level.

The DREAM Act was added onto a military appropriation bill last week by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. The defense bill failed 56-43. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, announced Wednesday that he would reintroduce the act for its own individual vote as a single item before the year's end.

In August, the California legislature passed two bills that together compose the state's version of the act, both of which are awaiting Schwarzenegger's decision. If he does not act on them before the month's end, they will automatically become law.

Under the two bills, undocumented students become eligible for state financial aid if they have attended a California high school for at least three years and move on to college. Since AB 540 was signed into state law in 2001, those undocumented students have been exempted from paying out-of-state fees, but have not had access to financial aid from the state or from the state's public universities. According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, AB 540 provides nearly 1,900 undocumented students in the UC system with waivers for out-of-state fees.

UC officials, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, have come out in support of the DREAM Act. In a letter to Schwarzenegger asking him to sign the bills into law, the university said 650 undocumented students would be able to receive aid under the bills.

Claudia Magana, president of the UC Student Association, said that because around 30 percent of student fees go to financial aid, undocumented students - who pay the fees but do not receive the aid - are "being completely cheated."

"These students are regular students, some of the most high achieving students on our campus," she said. "They deserve it."


Javier Panzar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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