Democrats in the State Legislature are hoping to enact a bill known as the DREAM Act that will allow the children of illegal immigrants to be eligible for state college grants, but there is some opposition in Albany to using public money for the plan.
Katherine Tavares was born in Colombia, and is currently attending her freshman year of college on a scholarship. “Last year, I applied for a scholarship for activism, and I was able to obtain it,” she said. “However, the opportunities for undocumented youth to have certain scholarships are very small compared to youth who were born in the United States.”
Tavares’ scholarship dries up at the end of the year. A straight-A student, she is hoping that the legislature passes the DREAM Act so she will be eligible for state grants, including the Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, and the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Both are competitive and merit-based, but both are currently unavailable to illegal immigrant students, even if their parents brought them to this country without any choice.
“What we are dealing with in this legislation is keeping America’s promise, the promise of freedom, equality and opportunity for all,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Critics say that public money should be used solely for those who are here legally, since college can be out of reach to even those who have played by the rules.
“We should not be taking taxpayer money and giving it to those who are in this country illegally,” said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. “We have a lot of students, both who are legal immigrants and American citizens, that are struggling to get through college. Many graduate with insurmountable debt.”
Assemblyman Francisco Moya is the Assembly sponsor. He said that the cost to taxpayers will be minimal. “Well, we don’t know the exact number,” he said. “It can vary because we just don’t know how many students there are. It can vary from $17 million-plus.”
The DREAM Act has actually passed the Assembly before, and it cleared committee again last week, so it seems likely that a vote by the full Assembly could happen before the end of the session.
The problem could be in the state Senate. However, with a new Senate power-sharing arrangement between Independent Democrats and Republicans, its chances of passage are probably better than they ever have been before.