By Susan Ferriss
Published: Friday, Nov. 26, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

The bill has already been approved – and vetoed – four times.

But California’s Latino Legislative Caucus expects it to become law next year when Gov.-elect Jerry Brown takes office.

In its current form, the bill would let undocumented college students apply for financial aid from a pool of money that is private but administered by state colleges and universities.

“I expect Jerry Brown to sign it for a simple reason. He stood up at the Fresno debate (against GOP rival Meg Whitman) and said he would,” said Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Latino caucus and author of the bill.

While a more conservative Congress is likely to ratchet up tough talk on illegal immigrants, California, the country’s most heavily immigrant state, is poised to go in a different direction.

Brown won on Nov. 2 with decisive support from California’s increasingly muscular Latino electorate. The voting bloc includes many naturalized U.S. citizens, and the Field Poll estimates its share of registered voters has grown to 22 percent.

The state’s Latino caucus worked to turn out voters for Brown and expects the Democrat to empathize with initiatives they’ve supported but seen vetoed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

During the same Fresno debate, sponsored by Univision Spanish-language TV, Brown spent considerable time explaining his views on illegal immigration, as well as recalling his first term as governor.

In the 1970s, Brown appointed the first Latinos to positions of California state power. He signed the nation’s only law to give farmworkers the right to choose unions.

“I’m not ashamed of the fact that people, particularly when they’re poor and when they don’t have power, and they don’t even speak English, they need a strong lawyer advocate standing in their corner,” Brown said in Fresno.

“I’m going to treat everybody, whether they’re documented or not,” he said, “as God’s child, and my brothers and sisters.”

He vowed that as governor he’d “do whatever I can” to get Congress to approve laws that include a path to legal status.

“Do we deport 2 million people in California, 11 million people throughout the country?” he said. “This is a real human tragedy.”

Brown has nevertheless upset some immigrant-rights activists because he favors a program called Secure Communities, which allows local police to send fingerprints of people they’ve arrested to federal immigration databases.

San Francisco and Santa Clara counties asked to opt out of the program that California joined during Brown’s tenure as attorney general.

The counties contended that the program has created a fear of police, and led to families being broken up by deportations of people stopped for minor reasons and who have no criminal history. Brown insisted they participate.

The incoming governor is also going to feel pressure from an old ally: the United Farm Workers union, which devoted much energy to getting Brown elected.

Arturo Rodriguez, UFW president, wants Brown to sign a bill amending the 1975 law that Brown and the UFW together pushed to give farmworkers secret-ballot union votes.

The UFW contends that employers have sabotaged the law by intimidating and firing workers with impunity.

Last year, legislators passed a bill allowing farmworkers to unionize by signing cards rather than by secret ballot if employers are found to violate laws leading up to elections.

Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure, which business interests vehemently opposed.

“Jerry, throughout this campaign, said it’s time to examine laws and how they are working,” Rodriguez said. “We want to have that discussion with Jerry.”

Cedillo said the Latino caucus, whose members are about a fifth of all lawmakers, aren’t going to “jam” the new governor with difficult proposals.

He said they consider the budget crisis and job creation top priorities as well.

But Cedillo, who was elected on Nov. 2 to the state Assembly, said that he plans to reintroduce his student-aid bill soon after taking his new office.

He said he feels he already made the bill more palatable last year by limiting aid to private money rather than competitive state aid. That’s more conservative than the policy in Texas, which allows undocumented students to apply for state financial aid.

Data from California community college and university systems show that an estimated 1 percent or less of all students are undocumented.

Latino legislators, Cedillo added, are sure to be able to collaborate with Brown on his student bill, as well as in other areas, including preservation of homeownership, job creation bills and tax reform.

But he conceded that Brown has opinions that differ from his own.

At the Fresno debate, for example, Brown reiterated that he is against allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

He called the idea, which Cedillo has sponsored repeatedly, a “little piecemeal” solution that “sends the wrong signal.”

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