Beige Luciano-Adams, Staff Writer
Created: 06/06/2011 09:25:18 PM PDT

Five years after its first introduction, the California DREAM Act – designed to remove higher education barriers for undocumented students – is finally inching closer to the governor’s desk.

In a 46-25 vote last week, the state Assembly passed the more crucial – and controversial – half of Assembly Bill 131, which would make undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements eligible for public financial aid.

Authored by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, A.B. 131 is part of a legislative package.

Last month, the Assembly approved the companion bill, A.B. 130, which would make undocumented students eligible for private aid.

Gov. Jerry Brown has already indicated he would sign the bills if they reach his desk.

As the bills move to appropriations and the Senate floor, the challenge will be pushing them through together, Cedillo spokesman Conrado Terrazas said.

“We should have support in the Senate. The question is whether or not we can get it out of appropriations if it’s attached to 131,” Terrazas said.

Cedillo’s office expects both bills to go before appropriations by the end of this month, he added.

The DREAM Act builds on A.B. 540, the law that made any Californian with three years of high school eligible for in-state tuition rates, regardless of immigration status.

Specifically, A.B. 540 students must have a high school diploma or equivalency and pledge their intent to apply for U.S. residency.

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, a principal co-author of the bills, suggested A.B. 131 will correct a flaw in the system whereby undocumented students pay into the system but cannot compete for their fair share of aid.

“Undocumented students, like other students, pay into funds that are given back in forms of aid to students in universities across California,” Hernandez said in a statement.

“By simply giving undocumented students access to funds, without giving priority over other students,” Hernandez said. California will finally be able to “tap into a ripe crop of intellectual capital that will help drive our state’s economic recovery.”

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, linked the legislation directly to the state’s population and employment needs.

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