Here’s How The New York Dream Act Will Help Undocumented Students Achieve Their Dreams

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The New York Senate passed a breakthrough Dream Act bill that will assist thousands of undocumented immigrants to pursue higher education. New York’s state Senate passed the Dream Act, which will provide access to state college tuition aid to undocumented immigrants. The bill is the same in name as the federal measure that would give provisional green cards to undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children. New York’s version focuses on another issue in the national immigration debate: college tuition.

The Dream Act passed the New York Senate with a 40-20 vote in what is a historic moment for undocumented youth in the state of New York.

The bill, which passed the New York Assembly with a 90-37 vote, will allow New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, to qualify for scholarships and the New York State Tuition Assistance Program if they meet certain criteria.

Applicants must have done one of the following to qualify:

Graduated from a New York state high school they attended for at least two years;

Applied for college within five years of receiving a high school diploma;

Graduated from a certified high school equivalency program

Be otherwise eligible for in-state tuition.

The Dream Act quickly became a top priority for the state senate since New York Democrats control it for the first time in a decade. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has confirmed he will sign the measure into law.

The bill is expected to affect an estimated 146,000 young people who attended New York public schools but have been ineligible to receive financial aid under federal and state law, according to an analysis by the N.Y.U. Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.

The bill represents a gateway to higher education that was previously an afterthought for the countless undocumented youth in New York.

Yatziri Tovar, a DREAMer and Make the Road New York activist, has spent the last few years advocating for the Dream Act bill. She acknowledges the significance of the bill and what it means to so many people in a state that were previously cut off from pursuing college due to financial reasons.

“Back when I was still in high school is when I started advocating for the bill and even during my entire time in college I was fighting for the bill to become reality,” Tovar said. “I was full of emotions and truly happy that future students will be able to not worry about finances because in college the anxiety and fears that you get because of money drive you crazy.”

Immigrant rights groups praised the legislative victory as a win for local organizing efforts at the state-wide level. Make the Road New York, an immigration rights organization, has been fighting for this bill since the start. The organization hopes this is just the start of more opportunities for undocumented people in the state.

Tovar says she has spoken with many high school students who now have clear intentions of applying to college thanks to the Dream Act. She says they are ecstatic to hear the news that money won’t get in the way of school anymore. “They’ve been fighting for this for years and our youth is fired up about this victory.”

Critics say the cost of the Dream Act is too high but supporters say the long-term financial benefit of educating immigrant students outweighs the costs.

Republican senators in the state criticized the bill questioning why it should pass for people that “are in this country illegally.” Another argument against it was the initial costs of the bill. Gov. Cuomo has included the measure in his state budget, in which he budgeted $27 million annually for it.

New York joins 15 other states in the U.S. that currently offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. While six states, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina, have intentionally banned similar measures.

“We must do everything we can at the state level to make it easier for immigrants, regardless of their status, to get an education that will empower them to better contribute to our communities across New York state,” state Democratic Sen. Robert Jackson told KGUN9.

What’s next for undocumented immigrants in New York?

The New York state legislature is now expected to take up more measures that will boost opportunities for those without lawful immigration status including drivers licenses. While talks are still early and there is expected to be Republican push back, immigrant rights groups are happy to see these measures being discussed.

Tovar says the Dream Act is first of many priorities for the undocumented community that includes gaining rights to a drivers license. She notes many undocumented people have been deported because they had no identification on them during traffic stops.

“The Dream Act was a huge victory for our youth but New York can do more,” Tovar says. “We are fighting for driving licenses because a simple traffic stop can lead to deportation and public transportation isn’t always available. We hope they can accomplish that this year.”

The passed bill is named The Jose Peralta New York Dream Act, after state Sen. Jose Peralta, who advocated for the bill for years before his death from cancer last year. His wife Evelyn, two kids, and his mother were in attendance to watch the bill pass.

“Today my husband’s dream becomes our reality,” Evelyn Peralta said after the vote. “To every immigrant hearing my words, we love you, we see you and we welcome you into our American family.”


READ: The Supreme Court Won’t Hear The DACA Case This Term Letting The Program Continue

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