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Calif. Dream Act signed into law; Donnelly promises referendum

October 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The California Dream Act is now law. It clears the way for illegal immigrants to apply for state-funded college scholarships and financial aid. An effort is already under way to overturn it.

Watts resident Pedro Ramirez was a junior in high school when he found out he wasn't an American citizen.

"Shocking at first," said Ramirez. "I kind of get used to that fact, try to look for alternatives."

Ramirez went on to graduate from California State University-Fresno by paying for his own education. But thanks to a new state law, students who are in this country illegally are now eligible to receive state financial aid.

"We'll be able to get institutional aids and grants from the universities, which were never accessible by us, so that'll definitely help," said Ramirez.

"This law undermines federal law. This law undermines the rule of law," said state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia).

Donnelly is launching a referendum to stop the new law from ever taking effect.

"This doesn't make any sense," said Donnelly. "We're broke. We don't have the money."

Illegal immigrants already qualify for in-state tuition. The new law makes it so they can apply for Cal Grant assistance, which averages to about $4,500 per student annually.

The Governor's Office says about 2,500 undocumented students will be eligible for assistance under the new law, at a cost of $14.5 million.

"If you qualify -- and that means if you have the grades, and you have the financial need in California -- we will fund you," said state Assmb. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

Cedillo considers this an investment in California's future because, he says, he's confident that the students who will benefit from this new law will eventually become U.S. citizens.

"And the only question is when that legal status changes, are they going to be prepared to be productive, constructive members of our society?" said Cedillo.

The new law takes effect in two years. Donnelly has 90 days to gather the 500,000 signatures required for a referendum, which would then put the issue before voters.

"All we need is 504,000 valid signatures, and I think we're probably going to get a million," said Donnelly.

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