Students Urge Cuomo to Support NYS Dream Act

With chants of “Undocumented, unafraid!” high school and college students rallied November 5 to demand Gov. Andrew Cuomo support the New York State Dream Act. (Photo by Caroline Lewis/Voices of NY)

As New Yorkers voted on November 5, young activists rallied outside a polling center in Midtown Manhattan, using chants and signs to send their message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“What do we want? The New York State Dream Act!” went the call and response. “When do we want it? Now!”

The high school and college students in attendance, known as Dreamers, were undocumented immigrants and their allies demanding that the governor put his weight behind New York’s version of the Dream Act. Undocumented New Yorkers are already eligible for in-state college tuition and this legislation would also allow them to access state financial aid and scholarships for higher education.

Diana Eusebio, 16, is one of an estimated 4,500 undocumented New York high school students who will graduate next year without access to the state’s Tuition Assistance Program. Eusebio, a junior at Hostos-Lincoln Academy in the Bronx, will take her SATs in April and hopes to study biology as an undergraduate, but said she still doesn’t know whether she will be able to afford college.

“I see many of my peers at the New York State Youth Leadership Council [which coordinated the rally] having to take off semesters or be part-time students because they can’t afford being full-time students,” said Eusebio, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6 and has lived in New York for the past three years.

Without financial aid, Eusebio said she would likely have to take time off to work instead of going directly to college after graduation.

Only 5 to 10 percent of the undocumented youth who graduate high school each year pursue a college degree, according to the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center.

In May, the New York State Assembly set aside $25 million in the state budget for the Dream Act, but the bill got held up in the State Senate by both the GOP and members of the independent Democratic Caucus.

Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), supported the bill, but would not bring it to a vote until it had its own funding stream, he told the New York Daily News in May. Klein suggested a tax on casinos to fund the bill.

But Razeen Zaman, a campaign organizer for the New York State Youth Leadership Council, said undocumented students do not need their own funding source.

The price of financial aid for undocumented students would only cost middle-income New Yorkers an extra 87 cents in income tax each year – “the price of a doughnut” – and would provide “a strong return on investment” in the form of college-educated workers who pay more taxes later on, according to the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute.

Dreamers are urging Cuomo to use his political heft to help pass the bill.

“If he wants to do something, he will do it,” said Zaman. “He showed that by passing the same-sex marriage legislation. He showed that by passing the gun legislation last year.”

Cuomo and Klein did not respond to a request for comment on whether they would support the bill in the next legislative session, which starts in January.

Elbert García, a spokesman for the governor, said “We consistently have supported the national dream act and are certainly looking into the state proposal. We’re in the middle of doing that right now.”


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