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UCLA Chancellor Gene Block urges passage of Dream Act [Updated]

December 3, 2010 | 12:32 pm

As Congress nears a showdown on legislation to legalize undocumented young people who attend college or join the military, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block on Friday urged passage of the measure, saying the nation needed their skills in an increasingly competitive globalized economy.

"We're in an international marketplace that is extraordinarily competitive," Block said in a White House teleconference featuring Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and other university heads. "We've got to make sure that every single one of our young people have an opportunity to contribute to our competitive advantage."

Locke said immigrant entrepreneurs have accounted for a quarter of all venture-capital-backed companies that have gone public in the last 15 years.

The teleconference was part of escalating advocacy on both sides involving the legislation, known as the Dream Act.

With a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system dead for now, the Dream Act is seen as the best chance to win legal status for at least some undocumented migrants before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.

Most Republicans oppose the act as unjustified "amnesty" for lawbreakers or say no legalization should be considered until the border is secured.

Democratic leaders say they intend to bring the bill to a vote in the next few days, but Republicans are vowing to block any consideration until George W. Bush-era tax cuts are extended.

To win more Republican support, particularly in agricultural states, California legislators are angling to add to the Dream Act provisions to grant legal status to undocumented farm workers.

Meanwhile, in a long-awaited cost estimate released Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Dream Act would increase tax revenues by $2.3 billion and increase spending on social services by $912 million.

That would result in a net reduction in the federal deficit by about $1.4 billion over 10 years, the CBO said. The estimate was based on 1.1 million legalized migrants.

However, the analysis found that spending on social services would "significantly" increase after 10 years, when the newly legalized migrants would be eligible for green cards and, after that, citizenship.

The added costs of their health insurance, Medicaid and nutrition assistance would increase projected deficits by more than $5 billion after 2021, the estimate found.

But Steven Camarota of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington said the larger public expense would fall on state and local governments for educational spending. In a new analysis, he estimated that each newly legalized migrant who attends a public university or college would receive a tuition subsidy of nearly $6,000, for a total annual cost of $6.2 billion.

California educational leaders said, however, that they did not expect a major effect on their budgets and enrollment.

The public subsidy per California-resident student at UCLA, for instance, amounts to more than $20,000, and at California community colleges about $5,800, based on the difference between in-state and out-of-state fees and tuition.

But enrollment is limited at the highly selective UCLA. And although California residents are automatically granted admission to community colleges, access to classes is limited by state funding caps.

Last year, for instance, the state reimbursed the community colleges for only about 2.6 million of 2.8 million students served, leading the system to accommodate 200,000 students with larger classes, budget reserves and other measures, and to turn 140,000 others away, according to Terri Carbaugh, community colleges spokeswoman.

She added that continuing students have priority for classes, which would put newly enrolled Dream Act students at the back of the line. [Updated at 1:08 p.m.: A previous version of this post excluded the words "newly enrolled;" they were added to clarify which students would be put at the back of the line.]

She and Block said the biggest effect would be to give Dream Act students the chance to legally work and obtain federal student loans, which would help them pursue and pay for higher education.

"These students are here, whether we educate them or not" Block said. "Let's educate them."

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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