4/11/14

A DREAM Deferred

On the agenda at the Bay Ridge Democrat's monthly meeting at the Bridgeview Diner last evening was a presentation on the state DREAM Act (A.2597/S.2378) by Sunset Park resident Anayeli Gomez, an undocumented immigrant enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Gomez, whose parents brought her to the U.S. as a three-year-old child, is now a student at Brooklyn College and a member of immigration reform organization La Fuente.

On March 17, the New York State Senate killed the DREAM Act by a 2-vote margin. According to Gomez, State Senator Jeffrey Klein promised, but failed to deliver, the votes required to pass the legislation. Brooklyn DINO Simcha Felder was one of two Democrats who voted against the Act. Republican State Senator Marty Golden, who publicly opposed the legislation, was also among the "no" votes.

An estimated 146,000 students educated in New York public schools are currently ineligible for financial aid under federal and state law. Of the more than 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from New York City high schools every year, only 5-10% manage to overcome the financial hurdles to getting a college degree. The parents of undocumented students, who have typically spent their working lives in low-wage jobs, often lack the resources to support their children through college.

After having been educated in New York schools from K through 12, undocumented students are left in limbo when they graduate high school. They can't apply for federal tuition assistance, scholarships, grants or loans. Passing the DREAM Act would allow New York State, with one of the country's biggest immigrant populations, to follow the example of Washington D.C., California, Texas and New Mexico, and extend assistance to all students who meet the financial requirements for the Tuition Assistance Program.

Because the state DREAM Act is important to many local residents, I thought it might be helpful to share some points from the handout prepared by the New York State DREAM Coalition (NYS AFL-CIO) distributed at the talk. It addresses six common misconceptions about the DREAM Act:
  • Contrary to the belief that the bill would drive illegal immigration, it would apply only to immigrants already in this country. In order to qualify for state financial aid, undocumented immigrants would need a diploma or a GED from a New York State high school. Undocumented immigrant students could only be legalized under federal law.
  • Counter to the assumption that the Act would create a fiscal burden and strain the state's educational resources, by enabling graduates of the state's elementary and secondary school systems to attend college and develop their career potential, the state would reap a healthier return on its education investment.  The DREAM Act would cost less than 2% of the state's current Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) budget. 
  • Contrary to the belief that undocumented immigrants are vampirizing the tax dollars of legal U.S. citizens, undocumented workers are just as liable for payroll taxes, income taxes and property taxes (either directly or through rent) as U.S. citizens. As of 2010, undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $744 million a year in New York State taxes.
  • Counter to the assumption that the DREAM Act is an amnesty program, it does not provide amnesty or reform the immigration laws. It is narrowly focused on expanding higher education access for undocumented immigrant graduates of the state's high schools. It makes sense, since these students are likely going to stay in New York State, that they get the education they need to become contributors to the state economy.
  • Contrary to the belief that the state's immigration problems would be resolved by the passage of the federal DREAM Act, federal reforms would not authorize undocumented New York State high school graduates to apply for financial aid. Many such students are now protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Helping them fund their college education means that once they are federally authorized to work, the state would reap the return on its investment in their education.
For more information, contact AFL-CIO Outreach Director Arelis Tavares at 212-777-6040 or 917-209-9926.

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