The Illegal Alien Scholarship

Californian taxpayer dollars at work.

Leftists are well-versed in the politics of incrementalism. And nowhere has there been a greater effort to realize the fruits of such incrementalism than in the arena of immigration. Thus it is no accident that the Left has made every attempt to relegate the phrase "illegal alien" to the dust bin of history and replace it with "undocumented immigrant." Such a change implies that being in the country illegally isn't so much against the law as it is a mixup of paper work. Such calculated obfuscation begets political expediency on many fronts. One of the primary fronts is education. With respect to taxpayer-funded college for illegals--which now includes scholarships--the state of California provides a case in point of how a state gets from "here to there" over 25 years.

Beginning in 1985, in Leticia A. v. Board of Regents, the Alameda County Superior Court ruled that the Education Code disallowing "undocumented" students from establishing residence was unconstitutional. As a result, such students could then establish state residence for tuition purposes for both the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems.

Proponents of the decision subsequently formed the Leticia A. Network, comprised of teachers, counselors, students, parents and various rights activists for the purpose of publicizing the ruling and making sure it was followed. A few years later an employee named David Paul Bradford filed a lawsuit against the University of California, claiming he was forced to quit for failing to implement Leticia A. In 1990, Regents of California v. Superior Court (Bradford) established that all illegal alien students enrolling at UC after June of 1991 would be classified as non-residents. In 1992, the California Student Aid Commission followed Bradford and stopped awarding Cal Grants to those students. The UC policy was also adopted by California Community Colleges (CCCs) even though they weren't mentioned in the Bradford ruling. In 1992 Bradford was extended to include CSU, which appealed the decision and lost. They began implementing it in 1995.

In 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187, also known as Save Our State (SOS) by a whopping 59-41 percent margin. The law barred illegal alien students from attending all public schools in California, from kindergarten through college. Judge Mariana Pfaelzer immediately blocked the law, noting that it might not be constitutional because it failed to provide due process or a hearing before individuals were denied benefits. Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who was re-elected with 55 percent of vote, supported the measure. At the time the number of illegal alien children attending California public schools was estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000, costing the state half of the $3 billion it spent on illegals in general out of a state budget of $40 billion.

In 1998, Pfaelzer issued her final ruling on Prop 187, gutting the law. In a now-familiar refrain she ruled that the regulation of illegal immigration is the federal government's responsibility. Outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson vowed to appeal, but in 1999 incoming Democrat Gov. Gray Davis announced the state would drop it. In 2000, an attempt to overturn Bradford was then undertaken. AB 1197 would have eliminated non-resident tuition rates for all "long-term California residents...regardless of citizenship status."

Davis vetoed the bill, noting that it violated the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which specifically states that an "alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any post-secondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident." When he vetoed it, Davis also noted that this expanded eligibility requirement would cost California $63.7 million.

It was Davis's last attempt to show some backbone. Despite his veto, the California state legislature passed the bill again. Davis, whose plummeting popularity eventually led to his recall, bowed to the political pressure and signed AB 540, allowing anyone who attended three years of high school and graduated to be eligible for in-state tuition. Students also had to fill out an affidavit that said they would apply for residency as soon as possible.

The law was challenged based on Davis's concerns about increased eligibility and the violation of federal law, but on November 15, 2010, in Martinez v. Regents of California, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that granting in-state tuition benefits to "unlawful" aliens was not preempted by federal law. The court further noted that California law did not treat out-of-state U.S. students worse than illegals, because in-state tuition is available to all who qualify for it.

One might be inclined to think that illegal aliens getting in-state tuition at California colleges would have satisfied the activists. One would be wrong. Enter AB 130. Signed into law by newly-elected Gov. Jerry Brown on July 25, 2011, AB 130 made illegal alien college students eligible to receive privately-funded scholarships beginning in January 2012. As the Undocumented Students section of this website from the UC Santa Barbara Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships reveals, there are several private organizations willing to underwrite scholarships for such students.

Unsurprisingly, the activists remained unsatisfied. Equally unsurprisingly, Gov. Brown was more than willing to accommodate their dissatisfaction. On October 8th, he signed the second half of the California DREAM Act, companion bill AB 131: California becomes the first state in the nation where illegals can now access public funds for scholarships. Proponents estimate such scholarships will cost the taxpayers $14.5 million; opponents between $22 and $42 million dollars. A "non-estimated" reality? California has a current budget deficit of $25.4 billion.

Whether the law stays on the books remains to be seen. Opponents of the legislation have initiated a petition drive in Pasadena aimed at putting the the issue on the 2012 ballot. “All across the state, we can’t keep up with the demand, it is absolutely off the charts,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia) of the proposed initiative. He further noted, "The polling indicates that 80 to 90 percent of Californians are against this, and it crosses party lines."

Such opposition is quite necessary: 505,000 signatures must be collected by January 6, 2012 to qualify for inclusion. Even so, such opposition may be quixotic: California courts are known for disregarding the will of the electorate, much as they did when voters passed affirmative action and gay marriage bans, both by substantial margins. The former ban was overturned, but the latter remains on appeal.

Aside from the financial costs involved in underwriting scholarships for illegals, petitioners make a compelling argument refuting Gov. Brown's contention that taxpayer supported education will improve the workforce, noting that illegal aliens "Are Not LEGALLY Able to Work in the United States THEREFORE Paying for the Education of Illegal Aliens is a FRAUD and WASTEFUL THEFT of Taxpayers' Money."

Not illegal aliens. "Undocumented immigrants"--to those who incrementally undermine the integrity of the law and the sovereignty of the nation.

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