New York’s Dream Act Not Dead Yet

Cuomo, advocates working to include measure in $137.2 billion state budget
By Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times
March 19, 2014 9:04 pm Last Updated: March 20, 2014 7:07 am

NEW YORK—Advocates for the New York State Dream Act, which would allow undocumented youth illegally in the United States to get tuition assistance, are refusing to give up after the measure failed a Senate vote Monday. Supporters were in Albany Tuesday continuing to lobby for the bill. 

A Monday evening vote on the bill in the state Senate failed with 30 votes in favor and 29 opposed. Sponsored by Sen. Jose Peralta, it needed 32 votes to pass. 

The response from policymakers to citizens has been a renewed call to continue working for the act’s passage. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a staunch supporter of the measure but was criticized for not throwing enough weight behind it. He has since issued a statement with a promise to keep it alive. 

“I will continue to work with supporters, stakeholders, and members of the Legislature to achieve this dream, and build the support to pass this legislation and preserve New York’s legacy as a progressive leader,” he said. Advocates are pushing for the measure to be included in the $137.2 billion state budget due April 1. 

Hurdles to Overcome

Supporters plan to rally in New York City Wednesday evening. The New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), led by immigrant students, will hold an evening event on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. 

“This isn’t over yet!” stated the group on their Facebook page. “We are ready to hold the NY State Senate accountable. … We are not giving up on the bill and will make sure they see us and hear from us!” 

Although their goals are achievable, supporters see major hurdles in securing the funding. 

The only chance for the $25 million needed to fund the Dream Act (or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) comes in the governor’s final budget, which will be delivered in about two weeks.

At a New York City Hall rally on St. Patrick’s Day before the vote, 21-year-old Guadalupe Ambrosio said she thinks that it’s urgent the legislation succeed. “We need this bill now, the time is now,” said Ambrosio, an undocumented New Yorker and a core member of the NYSYLC. “Three long years is enough and I am fighting for it in this cold weather.”

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin drafted the national Dream Act three years ago. That same year Ambrosio was accepted into The New School, but couldn’t attend because of the pricey private tuition. As an illegal immigrant, she is not eligible for state or federal financial aid, and was forced to drop out. Ambrosio wants to become a teacher but, she said she cannot do it without financial assistance.

This is the reality for over 3,500 undocumented youth who call New York their home.

“This is a fight for the soul of our neighborhoods, the ability of our young people to move forward, to get an education, to pay taxes, to contribute to the tax base, to become part of the middle class, is all of our dreams,” said New York state senator and co-sponsor of the state’s Dream Act Adriano Espaillat on Monday. He is an immigrant and one of the Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate working for passage.

If it does succeed in getting into Cuomo’s budget, the Dream Act will provide state financial assistance to all students eligible for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP requires that students be enrolled full-time, maintain at least a C average, pay at least $200 a semester, and declare a major by their second year.

The state’s Dream Act applies only to undocumented youth who have a New York GED and enroll in a college or university within five years after graduating, according to nydreamact.org.

Additional reporting by special correspondent in New York Holly Kellum