Providing one of the most significant victories to the Latino electorate in a generation, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a bill allowing undocumented students to apply for financial aid to state universities and community colleges.
In signing the second, more contentious part of the Dream Act, AB131, Brown positioned himself squarely in the center of the divisive national debate over immigrants' rights.
Conservatives immediately decried the move as providing scarce governmental resources to illegal residents.
But Brown argued that students on the path to citizenship should have the same access to public funding as citizens.
Under the new law, only those students who have graduated from a California high school and proved they are applying to legalize their immigration status are eligible.
"Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking," Brown said. "The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us."
The bulk of the new immigration law, the nation's strictest, is now in effect after being upheld Sept. 28 by a federal judge.
Among other things, the law requires police to check the immigration status of suspects and turn illegal immigrants over to federal authorities. It requires school officials to demand birth certificates from students enrolling for the first time, though the schools may not turn students away. It forbids illegal immigrants to engage in business transactions with state government.
On Friday, the Justice Department asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to block the law until the court could consider it fully. Government lawyers argued, as they have about similar legislation in other states, that the law contravenes the federal government's immigration enforcement function.
So far, the evidence of an Alabama exodus is anecdotal. But proponents are already hailing the law as an example of "attrition through enforcement."