February 21, 2012
New hope for NY's DREAM Act
High school students from Brooklyn and Queens rallied in the Capital Feb. 13 in support of the New York state DREAM Act and DREAM Fund — programs that would help children of undocumented immigrants receive financial aid for college.
Responding to the failure of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011, which has not passed in either the House or U.S. Senate, advocates are calling on New York politicians to implement the program on the state level, similar to actions already taken in New Mexico, California and Texas.
Separate pieces of legislation, the DREAM Act (S.4179-b/A.6829-b) and DREAM Fund (A. 8689) are designed to give the children of immigrants the assistance they need to gain access to higher education. The DREAM Act, supported by the New York state Board of Regents and the State University of New York, would make state scholarships available to students without regard to their documentation status and is specifically designed to provide assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants. The DREAM Fund is a separate program that would establish a private scholarship fund for the children of both documented and undocumented immigrants.
DREAM Act co-sponsor Assemblyman Rory Lancman, D-Queens, said he supports this legislation because "we are a state of immigrants." Lancman, who represents a district in Queens which is "very heavily made up of second-generation immigrants," believes that this will be a good move for the state in general.
The students were joined by members of Make the Road New York, an advocacy group that focuses on immigrants rights. Sonia Sendoya, a college advisor at the Pan-Am International High School in Queens, said "New York has been very friendly to students who are undocumented."
New York colleges are not required to report if a student is undocumented, said Sendoya, who has worked with undocumented students. "There have been cases of students who don't even know that they are undocumented until they apply for college," she said.
Because of the high cost of room and board at colleges, most undocumented students who Sendoya has worked with choose to stay in New York City. The City University of New York system, for example, does not require applicants to have a social security number, instead issuing a CUNY identification number to those who need one.
Sendoya said the problem for immigrant students, both documented and undocumented, is just getting past the cost of education. The DREAM Act would "tap into TAP," she said, referring to New York state's tuition assistance program. Furthermore, the DREAM Fund would enable immigrant students to receive scholarship money which could go a long way in helping them afford a quality education.
Natalia Aristizabal, a community organizer with Make the Road New York, said last week's lobbying efforts were directed at legislators who are likely to be key players in the upcoming debate surrounding the DREAM legislation. "As of now, no one has said no," she said. "I take that as a win."
A crucial aspect of the lobbying campaign is stressing that immigrant children are "not looking for a free ride," according to Aristizabal. "If we have the grades, we want the financial aid."
Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Corona, is the Assembly sponsor of the DREAM Fund and is the first Ecuadorian-American ever elected to public office in the United States. Addressing the crowd of roughly 100 high school students in the Legislative Office Building, he said, "Your immigration status should not prevent you from getting a good quality education."
"They [the legislators] will listen… this is where it matters," said Moya, urging on the student advocates as they began a day of lobbying.
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