The long awaited New York state DREAM Act passed the Assembly last week 90-48 and was delivered to the Senate to await an uncertain future.
“This is a proud moment for the Legislature. We are doing what is right for New York and for America,” said Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat who is chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.
DREAMers, activists [including activists from Make the Road New York] and lawmakers rallied on the Million Dollar Staircase last week, holding up pictures of fellow undocumented students to pressure lawmakers to pass the legislation.
The DREAM Act (A.2597/S.2378) would make New York one of four states to offer state financial aid to undocumented students who have earned a high school diploma or GED.
If the law is passed, undocumented students would have access to Tuition Assistance Programs, Higher Education Opportunity Program, Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Programs, Educational Opportunity Programs and opportunity programs available at community colleges.
“For more than three centuries immigrants have come to this country, millions through New York, seeking nothing more than freedom and the chance to make their own way,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, at a press conference last Tuesday. “… The immigrant story is one of overcoming barriers, many times barriers that were intentionally erected to shut them out …Our work is far from done, this barrier from education and a more prosperous economic future looms large and will take a collective effort.”
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report May 20 that concluded, “Extending eligibility for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to undocumented undergraduate students would provide economic benefits to the state at a very small cost.”
DiNapoli’s report estimated that the TAP costs would be less than $20 million total if the DREAM Act is passed, $5 million less than expected. The report also shows that the demand for higher-skilled workers is increasing, particularly in the downstate and New York City area. The unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma was twice as high compared to those with a bachelor’s degree. According to the report, a person with a bachelor’s degree downstate had a median wage 85 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma and would pay an additional $60,000 in state taxes.
Sponsor of the Assembly bill, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens said, “With the passage of this bill we celebrate what makes this state very unique. We recognize the significance of our immigrant community, which has been the source of our economic and cultural vibrancy for centuries.”
Alongside supporters of the Assembly bill, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, chair of the Committee on Higher Education said, “For many of us we’re only one or two generations away from having been immigrants. Our families came here and had an opportunity to build a part of this country. We have young people with the same hopes and dreams who are working diligently in school in the communities, volunteering, working hard for one reason, this is their country and they want it to be strong, they want to be part of its future and we have an obligation to assist them. This isn’t a handout, it is a hand up and it is the same hand up we have given other Americans.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans in the Assembly are decrying the passage of the DREAM Act saying that it is taking resources away from legal citizens.
“The Assembly Majority continues to use taxpayer money to bankroll a misguided social agenda that doesn’t come close to representing the best interests of New York state,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. “The DREAM Act directs millions of dollars away from hard-working New Yorkers into a pot of money from which illegal immigrants can fund tuition payments. Our state’s educational system fights and claws for every penny to avoid teacher layoffs and program cuts, but this is where we direct our student resources?”
Similarly, Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, released a statement following the press conference asking what kind of message this bill sends to the people who came to the United States legally.
“Today the Assembly is telling them that they’re fools to try to do the right thing,” Lalor said. “The Assembly Democrats are saying they should have skipped the line and broken the law. This bill would reward those who cheated the system. It’s not fair to the millions who are waiting on line and trying to do the right thing.”
Anticipating the criticisms from Republicans, Silver said at the press conference, “The DREAM Act is not about pitting citizens who are born here against those who are not,” he said. “It’s not a question of taking resources from one group and giving them to another. It’s about opening the doors to higher education and self fulfillment for all of our children. We must not deny these young men and women who are brought to this country and know none of their own, the ability to achieve and to become self sufficient, contributing members of our society.”
At the rally on the Million Dollar Staircase prior to the Assembly’s passage of the bill, supportive lawmakers spoke to the crowd of students. “We can’t continue as elected officials to use words like diversity or opportunity or the fact that this state was built on the back of immigrants as a punch line. This isn’t a punch line,” said Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx, chair of the Task Force on New Americans.
After the passage of the DREAM Act in the Assembly, the fight moves to the Senate.
Sen. Jose Peralta, D-Queens, took a moment at the rally to reassure the crowd that the fight is not yet over. “DREAMers are relevant, this is an investment … I will push and lead the way, working with Sen. Stewart-Cousins and others to ensure that we have a DREAM Act that passes this legislative session.”
While voting on the budget in March, Sens. Adriano Espaillat, D-Manhattan, and Kevin Parker, D-Flatbush, both voted “nay” on all portions of the governor’s budget for failing to include the DREAM Act.
“A one-house bill is cold comfort to the nearly 4,000 DREAMers that graduate from high school each year,” said Espaillat in a press release. “We can’t allow this momentum to dissipate and end session with yet another setback for young people that have shamefully become too accustomed to disappointment.”
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, released a statement after the passage of the bill in the Assembly saying, “It is now time for the Senate to follow their lead and pass this bill immediately. New York’s immigrant population has always been critical to our social, economic, and cultural fabric. Students of good character who, through no fault of their own have resided here for years, deserve an opportunity to achieve and contribute to the American dream.”
Moments after the conclusion of the press conference by Silver, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked about the DREAM Act and his position on it. Cuomo said that the bill had not been a topic of conversation but said he “supports the DREAM Act in concept.”
If passed, New York will join Texas, New Mexico and California making it the only states in the nation to provide state tuition aid to undocumented students. Since 2002 the state has been one of 13 to grant undocumented students in-state tuition.