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Know Your Rights
Source: Gotham Gazette
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

New York Colleges Need the DREAM Act

Queens College is a special place. As one of the country’s most culturally diverse campuses—we serve men and women from more than 150 countries—the college seeks to “prepare students to become leading citizens of an increasingly global society,” as our mission statement notes. We pride ourselves on being accessible and offering a rigorous education. In keeping with our motto—”We learn so that we can serve”—we provide an education that will enable our graduates to better serve their communities and the needs of our beloved New York State.

We strive to make Queens College as accessible as possible to all New Yorkers who meet our high admissions criteria. But there is a major roadblock confronting many DREAMers (undocumented immigrant students). The roadblock is that, because of their status, DREAMers are ineligible for financial aid.

All of New York State’s colleges and universities would benefit from the passing of the DREAM Act. Its passage would open up the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to DREAMers who meet TAP’s eligibility criteria. We would also be better able to achieve our goal of educating all New Yorkers and putting them on the path to high-skilled employment.

There are three main reasons why the DREAM Act should be passed immediately. First, the DREAM Act would open the doors of educational opportunity to thousands of students who otherwise would be unable to earn a college degree. This would be life changing for these young people and their families. The DREAM Act would also benefit immigrant youth who already are on campus. One of us (Mr. Curiel) is an undocumented youth and a Queens College student who maintains good grades and participates in campus life. However, he has no access to state-funded financial aid, which means significant financial strain on his family, as it does on thousands of other New York families.

Second, the DREAM Act could further advance academic excellence on our campuses. Numerous studies show that all students benefit when they are part of a diverse student body. Queens College students benefit from the rich exchange of ideas and experience that occurs in our classrooms, cafeterias, and common spaces among students from different backgrounds—whether those be national origin, race, culture, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Having more DREAMers on our campuses would further invigorate classroom discussions and campus life, benefiting DREAMers and non-DREAMers alike. It could also help DREAMers feel more comfortable on campus by eliminating the arbitrary barrier that immigration status can sometimes impose.

And third, the DREAM Act would enable us to fulfill our mission of educating all New Yorkers and developing a skilled workforce grounded in a liberal arts and science education. In today’s global economy, it is essential that we develop an educated workforce to keep New York State ahead of its competition. To do this, we must ensure that every qualified young person who wants to go to college can do so.

A report by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) found in 2014 that “the short-term costs of extending financial assistance to undocumented students would be outweighed by the long-term economic benefits.” Having more DREAMers in our colleges would significantly increase the ranks of high-skilled workers contributing to our state economy. It would also strengthen our state’s tax base, as the OSC found that “a person earning a bachelor’s degree would pay more than $60,000 in additional State taxes, compared with a maximum TAP award of $20,000.”

In short, the DREAM Act makes sense on three fronts: expanding educational access to New York’s youth, enriching our campus life, and benefiting our state economically and socially.

The only challenge now is the willingness to act. By passing the DREAM Act, New York State would be standing up for its talented immigrant youth. It also would be standing up for the continued excellence and vibrancy of our higher education institutions. These are goals we can all support.

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