monopoly_money.jpgTwo dozen college students rallied Werdnesday afternoon outside the San Francisco office of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Oct. 9 to either sign or veto a bill that would allow undocumented students to receive public financial aid for higher education.

The students, joined by a member of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, took part in a statewide day of action designed to pressure Brown into signing the bill, AB 131, the second half of the California Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act.

In July, Brown signed AB 130, a bill allowing undocumented students to receive private scholarships.

If he signs the second bill, undocumented students attending public higher educational institutions who qualify for the exemption from non-resident tuition would be eligible to receive financial aid at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Currently, undocumented students cannot receive state or federal financial aid.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, although some 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, only 5 to 10 percent continue onto college, with many unable to continue for financial reasons or because schools do not allow them to enroll.

Several students, identified only by their first names for their protection, shared stories at the rally about their college experiences.

Through choked tears, Catherine spoke of how she had been a fourth-year political science student at the University of California at Berkeley but had to drop out the semester she was to graduate because she could not afford to finish.

“Sign this bill as if your own children needed it,” she said, urging Brown to take action. “Undocumented students are under attack and California can be the beacon of hope.”

Juan, an engineering student at CCSF who hopes to transfer to San Jose State University, has been in the U.S. for 20 years and has spent 15 of those years in San Francisco.

“Education is a right; it’s made me stronger,” he said, adding that undocumented students need Brown to sign AB 131 so that they will have better access to opportunities. “With that extra help, it’s going to take us a long way.”

If the bill becomes law, those students would become eligible to receive institutional financial aid at schools in the UC or California State University systems, have community college fees waived and to receive Cal Grants, which do not have to be repaid.

However, undocumented students would only become eligible for Cal Grants once all resident students have received such an award.

Analysis of the bill by the Assembly noted that the demand for the aid–which can provide up to $12,192 a year to pay for college expenses at qualifying California academic institutions or trade schools–far exceeds the amount of funding typically provided, making it unlikely that undocumented students would be considered.

Some of the speakers, including Steve Ngo, a member of the CCSF Board of Trustees, stressed the need for California to invest in its future and noted that the state’s economic success depends on its producing an educated work force.

“Today they may be undocumented, but tomorrow we are going to call them engineers, teachers … and maybe one day governor,” Ngo said.

According to a Senate committee, the extension of public financial aid to undocumented workers would cost $23 million to $40 million annually, paid through the state’s general fund.

If signed, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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