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California bill to fund college for illegal immigrants advances

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California bill dubbed the state's "Dream Act" that would allow illegal immigrants to receive public funds for college education was approved on Wednesday by the state Senate.

The legislation would still need to pass the Assembly and be signed by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, to become law.

Proponents acknowledge that illegal immigrants who attend college are still not able to find legal employment after graduation, but they say the bill could eventually help spur the federal government to grant those students citizenship.

"The Senate made history today by voting to pass ... the final portion of the California Dream Act," Assembly member Gil Cedillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles and the author of the bill, said in a statement.

Cedillo said that, if the bill is approved, it would "increase the earning potential of these students, which helps all of us by contributing to our tax base."

Brown in July fulfilled a campaign promise by signing into law a related bill to allow illegal immigrants to receive privately funded college scholarships, but not public funds.

The latest bill would go into effect in 2013 and could cost the California budget about $40 million a year, but not all of that would go to immigrants because some legal residents from other states could qualify for the funds as well, according to an analysis prepared for a state Senate committee.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the bill would hurt California.

"The state is slashing budgets, they're cutting admissions, they're cutting programs, and here they are using scarce resources to help illegal aliens, when so many other people are feeling the brunt of these budget cuts," Mehlman said.

The bill passed the Democratic-controlled state Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 22-11, said Conrado Terrazas, spokesman for Cedillo's office.

The Assembly is expected to vote this week on the bill.

California is one of about a dozen states that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, based on attendance and graduation from a state high school. Only a handful of states also allow for financial aid for those students.

A federal Dream Act that would have created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military failed in the U.S. Senate last year.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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