Latino Officials Push for NY DREAM Act to be Included in State Budget

Supporters of the NY DREAM act rallied in Albany on March 2012. (Photo by Long Island Wins, Flickr Creative Commons License)

The state Legislature could soon settle on a budget, but many fear the New York DREAM Act will be left by the wayside like it was last year, despite recent unprecedented support in the Assembly.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya – the main sponsor of the DREAM Act, which passed with backing from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – said the legislation is one of the most important issues for the Latino community, “and it’s about time Republicans in the New York State Senate show that they truly want to work with Latinos, by including the project in the state budget.”

“Two weeks ago we saw that the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, was against the Dream Act, and now he supports it,” said Moya. “Once again, the Republicans in the state legislature are two steps behind their colleagues at the national level, and it’s time for them to act.”

The Assembly’s version of the state budget approved $25 million for the DREAM act, which would fund the college financial aid program known as TAP (Tuition Assistance Program).

A report by the Fiscal Policy Institute showed that once the bill is passed, around 5,500 undocumented eligible students would gain access to TAP, which is funded by the state.

Javier Valdés, of Make the Road New York, an organization that has lead the battle in support of the New York DREAM Act, said it is vital that the state Senate include funding for the DREAM Act in the budget just like the Assembly did, “so the scholarship program includes undocumented students and does not affect the rest of the students.”

“The state budget will be finalized in two weeks, but we need the Senate to declare the DREAM Act a priority this week,” said Valdés. “We also want to hear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who still hasn’t commented on the issue, as well as from Senate leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein.”

Klein, who represents the Bronx and heads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, has stood behind the DREAM Act, but on the condition that funding come from casino taxes.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat said the Democratic Conference fully supports the DREAM Act, but expressed caution about the members of the Independent Democratic Conference, with whom they would reach a majority in the Senate.

“Of the five, three would support it: Malcolm Smith, Diane Savino and Jeff Klein; but I don’t know what’s the position of David Carlucci and David Valesky,” said Espaillat. “And the Republicans – including their leader, Skelos – still haven’t decided whether to back the DREAM Act, despite that after the presidential elections, Republicans at the national level have said they would support some kind of version of it.”

In order to put pressure on the Senate to include the DREAM Act in the state budget, Espaillat said he is going to hold a press conference this week with Latino senators.

“Although there is a federal version of the DREAM Act, it’s important to pass this bill at the state level because there are clauses at the federal level that might not get included and the we could include, especially when it comes to funding,” said Espaillat. “Twenty-five million dollars for the DREAM Act, as the Assembly has included in its plan, really isn’t much for the state budget, which is around $137 billion. If the funding for the DREAM Act is not included now, it could complicate the approval further down the line.”

“Getting the DREAM Act passed this year is a priority for our organization,” said Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation. “We are working with the Senate leadership, with Klein, Skelos, and the Democrats, to find a way to pass the DREAM Act. We also need Cuomo to use his authority and approve this plan, which will not only benefit undocumented students, but the state economy as well.”

State Senator José Peralta said he wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to include the DREAM Act in the budget, based on the fact that the majority of Democrats have signed the legislation as co-sponsors.

“I still haven’t received a response from the governor,” said Peralta. “We know that Cuomo supports the idea of the DREAM Act, but he still hasn’t committed himself to the actual bill.”

Héctor Figueroa, president of SEIU Local 32BJ, said that immigrant workers pay taxes whether or not they are documented, “and part of their contribution goes toward statewide student support programs.”

“We believe that undocumented students whose parents brought them here have the right not only to higher education, but also to have access to those funds, just like families who pay taxes in the state,” said Figueroa. “The DREAM Act would be the vehicle for these students to gain access to that help.”

According to the City University of New York, some 146,000 youth who have attended the city’s public schools are eligible to receive financial aid under state and federal law.

Messages left for Senators Klein and Skelos, and Cuomo were not returned at the closing of this edition.

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