State Assembly passes DREAM Act, now moves to debate in the Senate

The New York State Assembly passed the DREAM Act with an 81-42 vote on Feb. 26 and the bill will now go to the Senate for a final decision.

The act enables undocumented immigrant students to go to college with financial aid assistance and it ensures all New Yorkers have equal opportunity to access higher education.

“In a state that has been a leader on issues of civil rights and one which has one of the highest immigrant populations, New York should be at the front of progressive immigrant policies,” said former New York State Senator Shirley Huntley in regards to the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act gives undocumented immigrant students access to state financial aid. This includes programs like the Tuition Assistance Program, Higher Education Opportunity Program, Educational Opportunity Program and Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program.

Undocumented students are allowed to attend public higher education institutions, but current state laws exclude them from receiving aid with tuition.

Daniel Griffin, the director of admissions at Oswego State, said each year the Office of Admissions receives applications from “out of status” or undocumented applicants.

“Most have been living in the U.S. – most often right here in New York State – their entire lives,” Griffin said.  “In some cases, the student isn’t even aware he or she is ‘out of status’ until they go through the admission process and have to answer ‘no’ to being a U.S. citizen and ‘no’ to permanent residency.”

Each year, about 4,500 undocumented students graduate from high school statewide, but only 10 percent of the graduates pursue a college education, according to the Washington-based American Immigration Council.

Rochel DeSilva, a junior peer educator at Oswego State, supports the DREAM Act. She believes it can offer undocumented students the opportunity to better their lives, which she said is why immigrants come to the U.S.

“We can’t tell people America is the place to build their futures without giving them the resources to do so,” DeSilva said.

DeSilva thinks the U.S. is a place where people can get ahead in life and this should be offered to everyone.

Undocumented students have the opportunity to attend college and access to in-state tuition and merit scholarships, but they do not qualify for need-based state financial aid, according to Griffin.

Griffin said for low-income families, this could make going to a college like Oswego State “impossible,” as this prevents students from having access to grants and loans that could help them pay for college tuition.

The DREAM Act would remove barriers to obtaining a higher education for these students. It would give them the opportunity to receive tuition breaks and for their families to open college savings accounts.

The legislation was first introduced in 2010. This is the third consecutive year the State Assembly has passed the act, but it has failed to pass in the Senate in the past. Even though it has failed to pass in the Senate, last year the act was turned down by a single vote.

Cuomo tied the act to his $142 billion state budget this year, specifically to the Education Investment Tax Credit, which would allow donors to write off contributions on their state taxes.

The Education Investment Tax Credit was the first bill passed in the Senate this year.

Other states have already passed the DREAM Act, including California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington.

“These students should be offered a path to citizenship,” Griffin said. “They are not criminals; they are young men and women brought here by parents seeking a better life. Sounds a lot like the hopes and dreams that brought most of our ancestors here.”

The DREAM Act has been introduced in the past but failed to pass during the state legislature’s last legislative session.