California weighs college aid for illegal immigrants



CCIS director John Skrentny comments on the battle regarding California’s college financial aid bill for illegal immigrants.


BY ALAN GOMEZ   SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

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Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, left, is congratulated by Gov. Jerry Brown in July after the state’s Dream Act was passed, allowing illegal residents to receive privately funded scholarships. (Damien Dovarganes, AP)

Nearly 20 years ago, California became the first state to crack down on immigration when voters approved a measure that cut off education, health and other benefits to illegal immigrants and their children.

Now, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is considering signing a bill that would grant financial aid to some illegal immigrants attending state colleges and universities. That would be in
addition to laws that allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-
state tuition and let them accept privately funded college
grants.

As states such as Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina push hard stances against illegal immigrants, the turnaround in the Golden State is viewed as either a Democratic-controlled Legislature ignoring the will of Californians, or a path that other states will soon be following.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, is convinced that people in his state are opposed to the state’s move toward acceptance of illegal immigrants. When Californians approved Proposition 187 — the voter referendum that cut benefits to illegal immigrants — in 1994, it passed with 59% of the vote.

He’s confident that voters still feel that way, so he’s prepared to push for another voter referendum to overturn the college financial aid bill if Brown signs it into law.

“Why is an illegal’s dream more important than an American’s dream?” asked Donnelly, who founded a Minuteman group to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border before being elected to office. “There’s a tsunami of discontent with this bill. Outrage isn’t even a strong enough word.”

The bill, passed Sept. 2 by the Legislature, would give illegal immigrant students about $40million in financial aid and fee waivers.

Anti-immigration groups says it makes even less sense when considering California’s financial plight.

“With a state that’s billions of dollars in the red — our own version of Greece in the United States — the idea of giving additional taxpayer money to illegal immigrants is surreal,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates lower levels of immigration. “It’s hard to believe.”

Some say the state’s growing acceptance of illegal immigrants is a preview of what will happen as Hispanics — the fastest-growing demographic in the country — spread out to new states and establish families.

“It appears that you get the most anti-immigration sentiment where immigrant populations are newer and where they are growing and when there’s a climate where political leaders are drawing attention to this,” said John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego.

A poll last year found that, for the first time, more Californians opposed a new version of Prop 187, according to a University of Southern California Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll.

Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said that’s partly a result of more Hispanics entering the state and non-Hispanics leaving in recent decades. But he said the poll found that young, white voters were far more likely to oppose laws that bar illegal immigrants from receiving benefits because so many had grown up surrounded by Hispanics.

“Because younger Californians are growing up in a multiethnic, multicultural society, they’re much less likely to draw these types of distinctions than older voters,” Schnur said.

That helps explain why states farther north and east are just recently starting their anti-immigration battles, Skrentny said.

Georgia, which passed an anti-immigration law this year that was blocked by a federal judge, saw its Hispanic population nearly double from 2000 to 2010. South Carolina passed another anti-immigration law, which is being challenged in federal court, after its Hispanic population rose by 148% over the same time . And Indiana, which passed an anti-immigration law that has been halted by a federal judge, saw an additional 170,000 Hispanics pour into the state in the past decade.

“These are folks that are not used to this kind of ethnic diversity,” Skrentny said. “That suggests that places like Alabama and Georgia are closer to where California was in the 1990s, and it suggests that California has moved on.”

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