Over the past several weeks, student activists across New York State have been drumming up support for the New York DREAM Act, a bill that would put undocumented high school graduates on a level playing field with their peers by allowing them to access state tuition assistance, just like everybody else.
For those who follow the struggle for immigrant rights, the bill may sound familiar. That’s because it borrows its name for a piece of federal legislation, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors bill, or the DREAM Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001.
The federal DREAM Act, which came close to passage in November 2010, would provide a pathway to legalization for certain undocumented students who attend college or serve in the military.
While the two bills share the same name, they’re substantially different. New York cannot, at least under current legal interpretations, grant residence to the undocumented. Instead, the New York State DREAM Act gives undocumented youth access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP. Same dream of educational opportunity, but a very different DREAM Act.
In spite of the differences in the legislation, the two acts would be complimentary. The New York version could aid passage of the federal bill and could help our state’s undocumented scholars get a leg up in the federal legalization process.
There is no way the federal DREAM Act will pass before the November elections. However, changes in Congress could lead to passage next year. If the bill is passed and New York’s own version is in place, kids who might have otherwise have been forced to skip college because of financial need will have already completed one of the two years of college education required for permanent residence. In this way, New York will have made a down payment not just on these scholars’ education, but on their permanent legal immigration status, as well. The students would be halfway home in becoming permanent residents, workers, and taxpayers.
Passage of the New York DREAM Act would also send a message that our state stands up for immigrant children and honors their hard work and aspirations. At a time when politicians are trying to cut off water from immigrant apartments in Alabama and ban undocumented students from college in Georgia, our own DREAM Act would offer Americans a different perspective on these promising young people. It would send a message that would be difficult for Washington to ignore. With California and Maryland recently passing their own state-level versions of the DREAM Act, we would play a role in reversing the anti-immigrant tide that has been so harmful to our country.
Please call your state senator today and tell him that you want New York to go on record in favor of our youth (see the list below). Also, here’s a prioritized list of elected officials to contact:
#1: Governor Cuomo, 518-474-8390
#2: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, 518-455-3791
#3: Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, 518-455-3171
#4: Senator Lee M. Zeldin 518-455-3570
All nine state senators from Long Island: