Last year, the DREAM Act, a piece of federal legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who attend college or serve in the military, was narrowly defeated in the Senate. In the aftermath, advocates across the country scrambled to find state-level initiatives that would help give these young people a chance to attend college and come out of the shadows.
A state-level version of the DREAM Act was introduced in New York, but it has languished with few sponsors in Albany. And while the bill may be amended in coming weeks, it is currently stalled. Aside from that piece of legislation, however, some advocates are investigating a different approach to helping undocumented students.
Undocumented high school grads have already been eligible for in-state tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for a decade, thanks to the efforts of the New York Immigration Coalition member organizations. In this way, we are further along than most states. However, this year, California passed a law making state aid to students available regardless of the student’s immigration status, a significant advance in the fight for immigrant rights.
This month, the New York State Board of Regents began exploring the idea of making state aid programs available to undocumented immigrants, and some immigrant advocates want to work with the regents and SUNY trustees to help immigrant students finance their educations.
Our state’s principal aid package is the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Hundreds of thousands of students get assistance under this program every year, but high achieving undocumented students are excluded. Advocates hope to change this by making the program available to any qualifying graduate of a New York high school, regardless of immigration status.
Immigrant rights supporters also want to remove immigration status requirements from the thousands of scholarships currently administered by the individual SUNY and CUNY schools.
Finally, they hope to change the law regarding educational savings accounts to allow parents with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers to create such accounts.
Next week, I’ll write about how you can get involved in this statewide effort on behalf of immigrant youth. The next three months will be crucial in this struggle.
Feature image courtesy of Antonio Villaraigosa via Flickr.