Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Created: 08/26/2011 06:46:36 PM PDT

A bill allowing undocumented students in California to use public funds to help pay for college is quickly moving through Sacramento, but cost may be an issue if and when it crosses Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk next month.

A Brown spokeswoman said the administration supports the general principal behind AB 131, but it will take a long hard look at the bill considering the deep fiscal challenge of a $26 billion budget gap.

AB 131 is the second of a two-bill package referred to as the California DREAM Act, which is aimed at getting financial aid for college students who entered the country illegally. The first bill, AB 130, allows undocumented students access to financial aid from private donations to public colleges and universities and was signed into law last month.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said AB 131 is the more difficult for Brown of the two because of the use of public funds.

“Gov. Brown seems to have made his broader philosophical decision on the question of providing support for students who are in the country illegally,” Schnur said. “Now he’s got to decide whether he can afford it. It’s a much more difficult decision than the first one.”

Still, if Brown decides to veto for economic reasons, it might not have much political downside, Schnur said.

“The opponents by and large are not going to be Jerry Brown supporters anyway and most the supporters of the bill are probably not going to switch sides before the next election. If he does decide to veto the second bill, he can remind the bill’s supporters that he signed the first one.”

Jack Pitney, professor of political science at Claremont McKenna, agreed Brown may have some leeway.

“I think he still has considerable credibility among Hispanic voters so he has some latitude on this,” Pitney said.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said there’s about $20 million to $35 million available for financial aid for the students — about 1 percent of the $3.5 billion in funds set aside for students in public education.

“I believe, as the governor does, these people are part of our future,” Cedillo said. “Their immigration status is ultimately going to change through marriage, or some type of immigration reform. The only question is, have we prepared them to be productive, effective, and constructive members of our society.”

Opponents of the legislation said the bill disenfranchises legal resident students in a time of deep fiscal difficulty for the state.

“For Sacramento lawmakers to use our tax dollars to fund the higher education for students who are in the United States illegally, is reprehensible,” said Raymond Herrera, founder and president of the Claremont-based anti-illegal immigration group We the People. “Precious tax dollar funding should go exclusively to American citizen college students or legal resident college students, not illegal aliens.”

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, announced he would file a referendum against the bill if it’s approved.

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