New York immigrant groups push hard on scaled-back DREAM Act
Not all dreams come true, or at least not right away.
That’s why state lawmakers are including fewer of them in the New York DREAM Act, in the hopes that a narrower focus will bring more success in Albany.
Introduced last year after the failure of a broader measure in Washington offering young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, the state legislation would allow young illegal immigrants going to college to qualify for state financial aid.
A related measure would set up a private scholarship fund for immigrant students.
But after legislation failed to gain traction in Albany last year, sponsors dropped provisions granting driver’s licenses, work permits and health insurance to illegal immigrants, and shifted the focus solely to helping students pay costly tuition bills.
“I think everybody recognizes that it cannot come with all the bells and whistles,” said Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a cosponsor of the legislation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have not weighed in, but advocates say they are hopeful they can persuade the two key players to back the measure.
The legislation has gained momentum, with endorsements from a growing roster of elected and government officials, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees.
The New York Board of Regents has also endorsed the legislation, along with the SUNY university system and other colleges. That support could encourage Cuomo, a Democrat, to back the measure. But opposition has typically come from Republicans, who argue that such legislation rewards immigrants who arrived illegally.
“We continue to look at a number of DREAM Act proposals that have been advanced and are reviewing their fiscal implications,” said Scott Reif, a Senate Republican spokesman.
Advocates say Skelos’ growing interest in Latino issues could aid the passage of the bill.
Assemblyman Guillermo Linares said he made the case for the DREAM Act when he spoke at Skelos’ Unidad Latina conference last fall.
“I let them know that I was making my top priority this session to work on making a reality the New York DREAM Act,” Linares said. “I wanted [Skelos] to know what my intentions were, and he was obviously receptive to what I had to say.”
Lawmakers also said they may have better odds in an election year, when more voters are paying attention, especially given the growing Latino and Asian populations in the state.
“Obviously, something that we can never dismiss is the fact that in an election year, there is heightened attention to any decision the Legislature makes,” Linares said. “That will weigh in with the discussions that we have, hopefully in a positive way.”
The DREAM Act has its roots in federal legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. as children and attend college or serve in the military. The Obama administration made the bill a priority, but the failure to pass it has prompted several states to take up modified versions of the law.
Last year California made it legal for illegal immigrants to apply for private scholarships and loans, as well as state-financed scholarships. Illinois passed a version of the law that set up a private scholarship fund for immigrants.
Daniela Alulema, a member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, which has spearheaded the campaign, said New York could build on the legislative victories in California and Illinois.
Her group has stepped up its campaign this year, including plans for hundreds of students to flood Albany on Tuesday and make their case to lawmakers.
“We only have a few months; it’s crunch time and we’re working very hard,” Alulema said. “I think it’s now a matter of getting more support, particularly Republican support, to make sure that the bill happens.”
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