Let's Not Be Dreamy About California Dream Act

I understand the public relations reasons for throwing the title "Dream" onto legislation to protect and give benefits to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

But I also wonder if it obscures tougher, more hard-headed arguments for such laws.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed one such dream act on Monday -- state legislation to permit undocumented California students to receive financial aid from private sources -- and indicated he'd support a related bill to make such students eligible for public financial aid.

The arguments for doing this are often about the details of immigration; the students in question were brought here by their parents, and thus shouldn't be punished for the acts of their parents.

The better arguments for doing this are practical and economic.

By the time a student, undocumented or not, graduates high school, taxpayers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on that person's education.

With so much already invested, it's smart to go the rest of the way and help students get college degrees.

It would be even better if federal law could be altered so that such students could remain legally in the country -- so we all get the economic and human payoff of such students' work and family, which is in fact the payoff of our public investment in such students.

There's an educational goal here too.

California badly needs to increase its rate of college graduates -- a number that's been falling in the last decade.

An oft-cited study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the state is on target to produce one million fewer college graduates than it will need by 2025 to fill its jobs.

In that context, it's counterproductive to deny access to a college degree to anyone, documented or undocumented, who is willing to work to get one.

Those critics of college aid (and college access) for the undocumented say the state is cutting support to its public universities and can't afford to educate undocumented students.

The answer to that is: yes, the state is making cutbacks, but those cuts aren't driven by immigration. They're driven by the state's broken governing system, which makes higher education the easiest piece of the budget to cut.

The existence of so many undocumented students -- and the strong economic self-interest Californians have in seeing them educated -- is an argument for fixing the governing system and reversing those higher education cuts.

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