A Showdown on the California DREAM Act Looms

Published on March 18th, 2011

On Tuesday, the California state assembly’s Higher Education Committee passed AB 130 that will allow illegal immigrants to qualify for financial aid for higher education. The measure, originally introduced by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), will now move to the Democratic controlled Appropriations Committee in May where it will also likely pass. When the bill gets to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, it’s possible but by no means certain that he will sign it into law. Earlier similar versions had been vetoed by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California DREAM Act puts Brown between the proverbial rock and a hard place. A lifelong liberal, Brown campaigned in support of the DREAM Act and claimed that unlike Schwarzenegger, he would have signed it. Speaking at UCLA last October, Brown said: “Now when I say every young man and young woman, I mean everyone – whether they are documented or not. If they went to school, they ought to be here. And that will be one of the first bills I sign… Of course I’m not going to sign any bills until we get the budget solved and that may take me a couple of months.” There, in just a few words, is Brown’s out. California’s budget is nowhere close to being “solved.” The projected education budget deficit is $500 million; the total state deficit is around $25 billion. Statewide, teachers are getting pink slips. Justifying legislation to fund millions in tuition bills for illegal immigrants while teachers and other state employee are getting laid off may be too big a risk for Brown to take. If Brown is weighing the politics of the California DREAM Act, he’s got nothing to gain and everything to lose by signing it. Brown has only been in office for a little more than two months. So if he’s worried about the wrath of the Latino voters, he’s got nearly four years to make amends should he chose to. But the ire of other Californians, including the 12 percent unemployed, is something else. Brown knows that Californians have the recall provision that allows proponents to gather a certain number of signatures from registered voters within a set time period. The number of signatures statewide must equal 12 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous election. That means that about 1.4 million Californians would have to sign a recall petition to hold a special election that could remove Brown from office. Brown doubtlessly remembers that in 2003 Governor Gray Davis was recalled in part because of his repeated promise to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. At the time, California’s economy was sound (at least by comparison) and aliens who drive do not negatively impact the economy to any significant degree. Today, however, California’s economy is a disaster and funding university tuition for illegal immigrants only digs a deeper hole. Does Brown want to gamble? I’m not sure that Brown does especially since he’s already on record as saying that the California DREAM Act would have to wait until more pressing problems are solved.

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