On March 17, the NY State Senate narrowly defeated the NY DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented immigrant students access to public financial assistance and create a fund to finance scholarships. This was a huge blow to those of us who see the bill as a natural next step for a state that has led the nation in progressive immigration policy.

Comprehensive, national reform of our badly broken immigration laws may not be happening as soon as we had hoped, but in the face of congressional inaction, states and local governments have not stood idle. Instead, they have made significant progress in establishing policies that provide added rights and protections for immigrants.

Before the bill’s defeat, Governor Cuomo said that if it made it to his desk he would sign the DREAM Act. High-profile supporters including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor de Blasio have called for the bill’s inclusion in the budget even after its defeat. Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz and others say the bill still might be alive if the two houses can agree on a way to pay for the program without using taxpayers’ dollars.

A 2012 study by The Johns Hopkins University that tracked children from age 13 into their early 30s from families with diverse backgrounds found that the best students, and later the most successful young adults, were born in foreign countries and came to the U.S. before reaching their teens. I think in part this is because they have been through so much, and their experiences have given them a huge sense of responsibility to their families, their country and to themselves. They work part time jobs, help out at home, study heard, get good grades, and are leaders in their community. But a semester at SUNY can cost $8,000 – $9,000. If your parents are working two jobs, and what little money you make helps to pay the family bills, that probably isn’t going to happen. Unless we make it happen.

In 2002 New York enacted legislation granting all students, regardless of their status, in-state tuition rates for attending state colleges and universities. Now, we have the opportunity to lead once more and eliminate an even more formidable barrier to higher education by giving our immigrant youth access to financial aid.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge