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New York State Assembly Passes DREAM Act; Latinos, Advocates Urge State Senate to Pass it in Final Vote

First Posted: Jun 03, 2014 05:30 PM EDT
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While legislators, Latinos and immigrant advocacy groups are celebrating the New York State Assembly's passage of the DREAM Act again on Monday — after seeing its failure in March — the contested bill's final passage in the Senate is far from guaranteed.

If passed, the New York State DREAM Act will provide financial aid for undocumented students attending state universities, giving undocumented students greater access to higher education. 

The measure was passed by the Assembly in February only to be defeated in March in the Senate to the chagrin of immigrant rights advocates. 

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver urged Senators who are opposed to the measure to reconsider the bill, as there is still time for the bill to pass before the legislature adjourns for summer recess in July. 

"New York's immigrant youth cannot wait a year for another chance at a dream they have long fought for — affording a college education. There is still time left in this year's legislative session to make their dream a reality, which is why today the Assembly re-passed the DREAM Act and is urgently now calling on the Senate to join us," Silver wrote in a press release

He added that immigration status should not be a "barrier to pursuing the dream of higher education."

The measure, which is supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will increase state financial aid options available to undocumented students and will also implement a private scholarship program. The act also increases students' access to the New York State College Tuition Program through family tuition accounts. 

The bill expands the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), a grant that helps pay tuition at state schools. If the measure is passed, undocumented students will be able to receive up to $5,000 a year in education grants for undergraduate students. As the law currently stands, a student can only apply for TAP if he or she is a citizen or an "eligible non-citizen," which prohibits undocumented students from applying. 

If the measure is passed, undocumented students will be eligible if they have a high school diploma or equivalent, entered the U.S. before age 18, are under age 35 and have not been convicted of a violent felony. 

While the exact number of undocumented students who would benefit from the bill is not yet clear, the state comptroller's office estimates around 8,300 students in the CUNY and SUNY systems would qualify for state assistance under the act. As of fall 2012, 6,546 of the students were in the City University New York school system, and roughly 1,500 were enrolled in the State University of New York system, according to the office's figures.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Jackson Heights who is a lead sponsor of the act, told Latin Post Tuesday the passage of the bill has proven that the assembly has a commitment to the state's immigrants. 

"We have sent a strong message that being a good resident and a good student means more than a piece of paper. We have demonstrated that we will not stand idly by and allow the futures of New York's children to wither on the vine just because our colleagues refuse to vote for something that might be politically inconvenient," Moya said.

Moya, who is of Ecuadorian descent, said he is thankful for Gov. Cuomo and his continuing support of the measure. 

"We thank Governor Cuomo for his vow to support the DREAM Act and look forward to working with him to make sure the DREAM becomes a reality before the session ends," he said. 

The measure was initially rejected by the New York Senate with a 30-29 vote in March. According to Fox News, the measure was just shy of the 32 votes required for passage, signaling the rare defeat of a measure in the Senate. 

Republicans and Democrats who were opposed to the bill brought the measure to a vote late in the day, which supporters said intentionally set it up to fail. 

"It certainly seems that it was bought up to fail, given the outcome," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat. He said the vote "made a mockery of a very important issue."

While no Republicans voted in favor of the bill, five coalition partners in the Independent Democratic Conference, the only completely pro-DREAM Act conference in the New York Senate, voted in favor of it. 

Opponents of the bill — which was first introduced three years ago — argued that using taxpayer money to fund tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants takes away grants that could be appropriated to fund tuition assistance for citizens. 

The act would appropriate around $20 million to TAP, which opponents argue is too large of a portion of the budget to spend on undocumented immigrants. However, the expansion of TAP would increase the cost of the program by only 2 percent of the $885 million TAP normally provides to New York students, according to an analysis by the Center for Migration Studies released in February 2013 .

Sen. Ted O'Brien, a Democrat from Rochester, was the only person in his conference to vote no on the bill, and Long Island Republican Sen. Jack Martins, who has a large Latino constituency, voted against the measure as well. 

Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo, said in March that he is opposed to spending tax dollars on undocumented immigrants. 

"I simply cannot justify spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to pay for tuition for illegal immigrants when so many law-abiding families are struggling to meet the ever-increasing costs of higher education for their own children," Grisanti told Fox News at the time. 

The spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Klein, a cosponsor of the bill, expressed to Latin Post Tuesday Klein's disappointment in the initial failure of the act. 

"While Sen. Klein is disappointed with the outcome, he believes this was an important vote to have. We now know where everyone in the senate stands on the DREAM Act, including two duly elected Democrats who effectively blocked the Dream Act from passing," said Klein spokesperson Anna Durrett. 

Durrett said Klein helped reintroduce the act to the Assembly out of a commitment to the future of New York students. 

"Sen. Klein has long supported the DREAM Act because he believes every high school graduate should have access to an affordable college education," Durrett added. 

Meanwhile, immigrant rights groups are aggressively pushing for the act's final passage on the state Senate floor. 

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, a group which advocates for immigrants' civic participation, told Latin Post Tuesday that the group will work with lawmakers to ensure undocumented students have the opportunity to afford higher education. 

"The passage of the New York State DREAM Act once again in the Assembly demonstrates that this issue will not fade to the sidelines," Choi said. "And we will work with ... our legislators in the State Senate to ensure that this time around the State does what is right and opens the doors for our youth to boost New York's economy and serve as our future leaders." 

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