Jerry Brown did something admirable this weekend when he signed the “California Dream Act” into law.
The new law will allow undocumented youth to receive state-based financial aid in California. The bill also further protects their right to attend public universities. Coupled with previous legislation allowing undocumented youth the possibility of qualifying as in-state residents, the governor’s move this weekend made the playing field between undocumented youth who grew up in CA and youth born and raised in the state just a little more equal.
Unlike the federal “DREAM Act” this bill does nothing to provide a pathway toward legalization for the millions of undocumented youth who grew up in the United States. However, like it’s federal counterpart, the bill is focused on educational access, equity, and decency.
The basic decency of the law lies in the fact that these youth–whether or not they are citizen residents or “legal permanent residents” of CA–are Californians. Most spent nearly their entire lives here. Almost all are products of our schools and participants in our larger society.
They are also taxpayers and the children of taxpayers. The vast majority of undocumented residents pay taxes (local, state, and federal) though they do not have the ability to benefit from those taxes the ways that you or I do. Gov. Brown and the Dream supporters recognized the fundamental unfairness of a higher system that forces undocumented workers and their families to support it in numerous ways (like sharing the tax burden) but then treats them as foreigners in how they are admitted, charged, and supported.
I’ve spent too much of my weekend reading the misinformed and racially-based critics of the governor’s decision. They are hypocrites, at best, and racists at worst.
If they are anything they are ignorant. They don’t understand basic realities guiding the policy, or the basic realities of life for the undocumented. They have a narrow view of the migration process as a “choice” made by an individual, and usually view that individual as a criminal.
They live in a world shaped by the suffering and abuse of the undocumented, they economically benefit from that suffering, and they even promote and defend it in both intentional and unintentional ways. And, yet, when their cherished political ideals are actually embodied in our government in a more perfect and genuine way, they back away and hide in the safety of their ancient rhetoric of fear.
There can be no democracy without educational equity and equality of access. There can be no democracy in CA without some meaningful way for the masses of undocumented to become as integrated in our social and political worlds as they are in our economic.
This weekend CA opened up the possibility of becoming a more democratic state. We all will benefit from that.