What is a California election without some good old-fashioned scapegoating?
We Californians are innovators in so many ways: home to the first personal computer, the nation's first recycling program and ground zero for the Americans with Disabilities Act. But we also have this nasty history of exploiting and scapegoating minority groups, like immigrants.
We saw the latter play out this past Black Friday, when conservative legislator, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia) played to the shopping crowds by offering them the opportunity to win Target and Best Buy gift cards in exchange for their signatures. He wanted their signatures to put an initiative on the 2012 ballot to overturn AB 131, also known as California's DREAM Act.
The California DREAM Act allows for undocumented students who have attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated from a high school in the state or earned a GED to apply for financial aid. Assemblyman Donnelly's move is audacious in more ways than one. He began collecting signatures in the Central Valley, whose agricultural economy relies on as much as 80% of undocumented labor. It's bad enough that he is scapegoating such a significant part of our economy and our population, but he is also disseminating false information about students who would benefit from the DREAM Act that I hope to dispel here:
1. Donnelly is wrong when he says that undocumented students are taking the financial aid of U.S. American citizens.
In truth there are two provisions in the bill to assure that this does not happen. Section 1, Part B of the bill specifically states that the "number of financial aid awards received by California resident students from financial aid programs administered by the segments shall not be diminished."
Further down in the bill, Section 3 Part C, states that an undocumented student "shall not be eligible for Competitive Cal Grant A and B Awards unless funding remains available after all California students."
2. Donnelly is wrong when he says that AB 131 is costing Californians money at a time the state is broke.
Actually, this bill is an investment for our future. Researchers have estimated that our state faces a deficit of one million college-educated workers by 2025. AB 131 allows us to educate our future doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers and other needed professionals, right here and right now in our home state.
3. Donnelly is wrong when he says that undocumented students come from families who pay no taxes.
Studies have repeatedly shown that undocumented youth come from tax-paying families that contribute greatly to our state and often do not partake in public services because they don't know that they qualify or are afraid of coming out of the shadows. Households headed by undocumented immigrants in California paid $2.7 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.
4. Donnelly is wrong when he says that withholding financial aid will force these students to return to their home countries.
Actually, the opposite is true. These students are as likely to return to their "home" countries as we are to our ancestors' foreign lands. These students are typically brought to the U.S. by a parent or relative at a young age and have spent more years in the United States than their country of origin. Most likely, they speak better English than their first language, identify as American and are honor students, athletes, student leaders and aspiring professionals like any other student in California.
5. Donnelly is wrong when he says that undocumented students refuse to assimilate.
In contrast to this assertion, a recent study found that today's immigrants, documented and undocumented alike, will not only assimilate into American culture, but their home ownership rates will surpass that of native U.S. Americans. Among the findings, the authors found that while only 25.5 percent of immigrants owned their own homes in 2000, by 2030 70.3 percent are projected to own their own homes, on par or slightly higher than the homeownership rate among the native-born.
At a time when California and the nation face a housing crisis of enormous proportions, now is the time to welcome these young people and their ideas and work ethic with open arms. Shame on Assemblyman Donnelly for scapegoating them.
To learn more about how to attain economic security for all families in the United States, please join me at MomsRising.org.