ALBANY — The state Conservative Party chairman on Friday ripped the state Education Department for a new policy that will let some undocumented workers apply to be teachers in New York.
The regulation, approved by state Board of Regents this week, is drawing criticism from Republicans and conservatives, but support from Democrats.
The measure would allow people who can’t get legal residency because of their parents’ immigration status to seek teacher certifications — as well as apply for more than 50 professional licenses managed by the Education Department.
State Conservative Party chairman Mike Long called the policy “bureaucrats gone wild,” charging that it’s another attempt by governments with liberal policies to thwart immigrant laws.
“I think it’s insane,” Long told Gannett’s Albany Bureau, “and I think it clearly shows you the trouble the nation is in when people in authority, such as people in the Department of Education, don’t understand what the constitution says and what rights citizens have.”
The state Education Department declined to respond to the criticism, referring back to the comments Thursday from state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in support of the program.
The Board of Regents cited a June 2012 federal policy, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that allows individuals who came to the U.S. as children and meet certain guidelines to request consideration of “deferred immigration action” every two years.
“These are young people who came to the U.S. as children. They are American in every way but immigration status. They’ve done everything right,” Elia said in a statement.
“They’ve worked hard in school, some have even served in the military, but when it’s time to apply for a license, they’re told ‘Stop. That’s far enough.’ We shouldn’t close the door on their dreams. Allowing these young people to get professional licenses will open up a new world of economic opportunity for them.”
Democrats in New York supported the state’s efforts, saying that it is one of many ways New York should try to help immigrants in the country illegally. Democrats in the state Legislature have tried for years to win approval of the Dream Act in New York, which would allow immigrants to apply for state financial aid for college. Republicans have opposed the measure.
Sen. Jose Peralta, D-Queens, called it a “marvelous move” by Elia and the Board of Regents.
“It is refreshing to know that the board will allow hardworking, undocumented New Yorkers the ability to apply for teacher certifications and more than 50 professional licenses,” Peralta, who sponsors the Dream Act, said in a statement.
“In doing this, the state is righting a wrong. This action will no doubt increase the quality of our education system, as well as provide additional job opportunities for immigrant-professionals who already happen to pay income taxes in New York state.”
The immigration-rights group Make the Road New York, released a statement from a youth leader, Noah Quezada, who is an undocumented senior at the Pan American International High School in New York City.
“I feel really happy to know that, despite my immigration status, soon I could become an art teacher and instruct youth in my community to express their voices through art,” Quezada said. “A person’s immigration status should not determine whether they are ‘good enough’ to be a lawyer, doctor, or any other type of professional.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supports the Dream Act, said Thursday he had yet to review the policy by the Board of Regents, which operates independent of the governor’s office.
“It depends on how they write the policy, as to whether or not it’s legal and constitutional, and I haven’t seen anything,” Cuomo said.
Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, called on the state to revisit the regulation. It still needs final approval after a public-comment period opens soon.
“It might be a little uncomfortable when illegal immigrants teaching civics have to discuss the importance of respect for the rule of law,” Lalor said in a statement. “This is an outrage and an insult to all citizens and legal residents of New York state and the United States. It must be stopped.”
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