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The "California Dream Act," which would grant illegal immigrants access to student financial aid benefits, cleared its first legislative hurdle today, gaining approval of the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote.

The author of highly controversial Senate Bill 1460, Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, told the committee that it would benefit "young people who are here due to no decision of their own."

"They are our future (and) they deserve our support," he added later. No one testified against the bill.

Cedillo has attempted to enact the financial aid bill several times before, only to see his measures rejected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who two years ago cited the state's "precarious fiscal condition" in his veto message.

Cedillo's measure would expand on a 2001 measure that exempts allows illegal immigrant students from paying non-resident college fees. The "AB 540 students," so named for the number of the 2001 legislation, make up scarcely 1 percent of the students enrolled in the state's three systems of higher education, according to data submitted to the Education Committee. But whether they will continue to receive the lower fee and, if the Cedillo bill passes, financial aid is legally murky.

AB 540, signed by Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Gray Davis, was challenged in court. It survived the first test in Superior Court but a state appellate court subsequently overturned it, saying state law could not supersede federal law governing illegal immigrants. But the approximately 40,000 "AB 540 students" have continued to pay resident fees while the case remains on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

More detail on the measure is available here.


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