Regents Board support college aid for undocumented

Education officials met on Tuesday (Nov. 15) with undocumented students and activists on the steps of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street in Manhattan to support enactment of a law that would provide financial assistance to undocumented students in the state.

New York currently allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities; if the so-called Education Equity for DREAMers Act were approved by the state legislature, these students would have access to academic scholarships as well as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

“I worked 12-hour days at a factory wrapping CDs to be able to pay for tuition,” said Anayely Gómez, a 23-year old undocumented student from Mexico who has had to pay her way through Brooklyn College. “This would really help undocumented students,” she added.

The New York State Board of Regents approved the act on Monday but it will have to pass in the state legislature in 2012 to take effect. Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor for the Board of Regents described the current situation for undocumented students as “a tragedy” and said the Board of Regents “want to make sure they have the opportunity to go to college.”

“The Education Equity for DREAMers Act opens up a pathway out of the shadows,” said state Education Commissioner John King Jr. “Giving these students a chance to go to college will not only help them, it will help our economy grow.”

According to the Education Department, there are approximately 345,000 undocumented students in New York State — people like Gómez who were born outside of the country and were brought to the United States by their parents. Around 2,000 undocumented students are enrolled in the City University of New York (CUNY).

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, applauded the efforts of the Regents and the Education Department. “In the face of Washington DC’s inaction,” he said, “the Regents’ vote sends a powerful message that New York State will do everything in its power to remove barriers to college education.”

Betty Rosa, the Regent for the Bronx and the only Hispanic on the Board of Regents, supported the legislation.

“I feel very optimistic and hopeful that it will be approved. There is much excitement among the Latino legislators,” Rosa said.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya said that this would complement a plan to create a public commission to provide scholarships to children of undocumented immigrants.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat spoke in similar terms through his media spokesperson.

Republicans, however, are against the proposed legislation.

“Providing free tuition and other services to illegal immigrants while our families fight to send their kids to college is absurd. We have to focus on helping the millions that pay taxes and the legal immigrants,” Republican State Senator Greg Ball of Putnam County, said in an email.

One month ago, the Board of Regents expressed support for the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for these young people.

El Diario La Prensa also features an editorial (in English), “Heed the Regents“: “We expect the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to heed the Regents’ call, seize this opportunity and start the new year by giving all students the opportunity to complete an education.” (Nov. 21)

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