By Kristy Plaza, 17, Duarte HS
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Click here to read: What now?As an undocumented immigrant, it’s unfair that all my hard work might not lead to college

I’ve always supported the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented students financial aid for college and a path to citizenship. I believe that it shouldn’t matter what your citizenship status is because education should be for anyone who wants to be successful. So when I heard that the governor signed the California Dream Act, which is similar, I was excited. The state law allows undocumented students to apply for state financial aid to attend public colleges in California. I have a relative who grew up in California but who isn’t a legal citizen. He graduated from high school and was going to community college, but he stopped after a year. He had no money to pay for the classes and couldn’t get a loan or grant because he’s undocumented so he saw it as pointless. Now that the California Dream Act has passed, I believe that he will go back to college because he wants to succeed.

However, there’s another side to this. I have a friend who told me that she and her family came to the United States legally on visas, and they are on the long journey to citizenship. They have been here for seven years  and are still waiting to become permanent residents. Is it fair for undocumented students to get financial aid for their schooling when they haven’t waited in line like my friend has? Recently at a staff meeting at L.A. Youth, we talked about the passage of this law and what it means. Some staff members said it wasn’t right that illegal residents could take away financial aid from legal students.

I wanted to know how the California Dream Act will affect people like my relative and my friend. So I interviewed Erik Fallis, the media relations manager for the California State University system. After doing this interview, I have high hopes that this law won’t prevent residents from getting financial aid and that undocumented students will feel safe applying.

L.A. Youth: Are grants limited or unlimited? So if an undocumented student gets a grant, does that mean a legal resident misses out? Fallis: Need-based Cal Grants are potentially unlimited. They only real limit is the state’s willingness to fund them. But for our competitive Cal Grants, there are a limited number available. Only after resident students receive funding do we start giving non-resident students competitive Cal Grants [the Cal States use the term “non-resident” instead of “undocumented” because that’s the term the state law uses]. But in order to receive financial aid, the non-resident students need to have attended a California high school for three years and graduated from a California high school or earned a GED or its equivalent. [They also must show financial need and meet academic requirements.]

How many undocumented students do you expect will now qualify for financial help across the Cal State system? We are not making any predictions. Out of our total student population (412,000), less than 1 percent of students are in this situation, a total of 3,827 students.

Do you expect to get more applications from undocumented students? We have no expectations but we know that it is a financial hardship for some students to attend college without financial aid.

In addition to Cal Grants, there are also grants that the Cal States give out. Are those limited or unlimited? Those would be limited based on what funding is available [the grants are funded by students when they pay tuition]. Since the law would make non-resident students eligible for these grants, it may affect students whose families have incomes at the very top range of state university grant participants. But when you’re talking about less than 1 percent of the student population, that’s still going to be a pretty small percentage.

Is it safe for an undocumented student to reveal their status in seeking out this aid? CSU takes [state laws that protect students’ privacy] very seriously. When seeking financial aid, students don’t need to tell us [their citizenship status], but they must demonstrate that they meet the criteria for the financial aid. This may require the student to submit said information, but it’s very rare when individual student information is released. This information can’t be released without the expressed consent of the student. CSU doesn’t release names, just numbers like the total number who apply, in order to protect the individual identity of students.

Why did the CSU system support the state Dream Act? We believe that an educated student is a benefit to California and to their community. Students deserve the opportunity to better their lives.

Two acts that help undocumented students

There are two parts to the California Dream Act. The first, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in July, gives undocumented students access to private scholarships (non-government money). The second part, which the governor signed into law in October, allows them to receive public financial aid like community college fee waivers, Cal Grants and other aid from the UCs and Cal States. It goes into effect in 2013, although some Republican lawmakers have said they will try to repeal it.

The state Dream Act is different from the federal DREAM Act, which is a bill in the U.S. Congress that has not been voted on. The DREAM Act, which stands for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would provide a path to college and citizenship.

If signed into law, the federal DREAM Act would give people who came to the United States when they were 15 or younger a chance to become citizens if they met certain requirements. If they graduate from high school or get a GED and are accepted to college, they could work legally and get a driver’s license. They also would be able to get federal student loans and work study. They would not be eligible for federal Pell Grants.

Individuals would have six years to complete two years of college or vocational school or military service, while avoiding a criminal record. Then they would be granted permanent resident status and could remain in the United States legally. They could then apply for citizenship.