Keeping the DREAM Alive

Gov. Andrew Cuomo concluded his State of the State Address by trumpeting the importance of New York’s immigrant community. “That is the Statue of Liberty in the harbor,” he said. “Come one, come all, we don’t care [about] the color of your skin or your religion or how much money you have in your pocket; you come to New York and we will welcome you and work with you and invite you into the family of New York.”

This year lawmakers have an opportunity to make good on this promise by passing the New York State DREAM Act.

New York State currently denies undocumented students access to our state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), even if these students have long resided in New York, have graduated with top GPAs and otherwise qualify for financial assistance. By passing the DREAM Act, New York would finally end this discrimination and afford all qualified students the tuition assistance they need and deserve.

The Assembly’s Democratic majority has already passed the DREAM Act. In the Senate, the Independent Democratic Conference has recently given the measure its full backing, leaving the DREAM Act just eight votes shy of the support it needs to pass the chamber. In order to pass the DREAM Act, we need eight senators to step forward and declare their support.

Without action, crucial financial aid will remain off-limits to far too many, preventing thousands from pursuing higher education at all.

Nationwide, people are beginning to fully understand the impact of keeping nearly 2 million young people in the shadows. For an undocumented youth, no financial aid can mean no college education, which means no job and potentially no future. Society as a whole is imperiled when an entire population of undocumented youth—who are likely to remain in the U.S.—has no tangible path to the American Dream.

We may be closer than ever to seeing comprehensive federal immigration reform, but Washington has proven to be unreliable as of late. With hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants waiting for progress, New York cannot delay, hoping that Washington will make the first move.

New York, once a leader in immigrant rights, has fallen behind. Other states with significant immigrant populations have recognized the very real challenges facing undocumented students and have devised real solutions for overcoming them. In 2011 California passed legislation making state tuition funding available to eligible DREAMers. That same year Illinois created a DREAM Fund, which collects private donations for college scholarships for DREAMers. New York now has an opportunity to act.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a report last year touting the DREAM Act’s vast economic benefits, echoing what advocates have been arguing for years. The report also detailed the legislation’s low price tag, even if additional funds are added to account for an expanded pool of TAP recipients.

It is time for New York to lead. We must not only catch up to states like California but illuminate the way forward for the nation. Cuomo spoke of opening New York’s arms to those from distant shores. But in order for thousands of immigrants’ dreams to be more than just a faint hope, we need to do our part to bring them out of the shadows and finally pass the New York State DREAM Act.

State Sen. Jeff Klein is co-leader of the Senate majority coalition and leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. Assemblyman Francisco Moya is a sponsor of the DREAM Act.