Dream Act Dropped From New York State Budget Talks

by Sarah Bufkin

Frustrating undocumented students across New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is withdrawing the Dream Act from his 2015 budget proposal after failing to broker a deal between the Democratic and Republican conferences in the state legislature. When running for reelection last year Cuomo promised to make the Dream Act a reality for the approximately 8,000 undocumented students who were brought to New York as children, thereby allowing them to apply for state financial aid to help with heavy college tuition costs. During the 2015 legislative session, the Democrat tried to bring the Republican caucus in the state Senate — which has been firmly opposed to the measure and voted it down last year — to the table by offering to give them an education tax credit that would help send more kids to private and religious schools.

Unfortunately for the undocumented communities, neither the Democrats in the New York state house nor the Republicans in the state senate were willing to give ground. Media outlets reported Tuesday that the governor was pulling both initiatives from the budget as the April 1 deadline for reaching an agreement fast approaches.

Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos told reporters that his colleagues did not approve of linking the controversial measure to the education tax credit. Last year, the state senate narrowly failed to pass the Dream Act, which has cleared the Democrat-controlled lower chamber several times.

“Like most New Yorkers, he doesn’t believe taxpayers should cover the cost of free college tuition for illegal immigrants while hardworking, middle-class families here legally take out student loans that will take them years to repay,” Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Skelos, told The New York Times.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who hails from Queens, New York, and is a strong advocate of the Dream Act, released a biting statement Tuesday criticizing his Republican colleague for his xenophobic stance:

Right now, two of the 'three men in the room' negotiating the budget understand the importance of the DREAM Act and how it will benefit this state. Unfortunately, one of the three men has his head stuck in the sand. His xenophobia and lack of foresight has even made him willing to kill his own initiative, the Education Investment Tax Credit, a measure that would benefit his own constituents.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Moya also directed his critique towards Cuomo, lambasting what he saw as the governor’s failure to put his full political muscle behind the Dream Act.

“We look to Governor Cuomo to show true leadership and to bring Senator Dean Skelos back to the table to open up talks on the DREAM Act, just as he has in the past with tough issues like marriage equality and the SAFE Act,” he added.

The decision to pull the Dream Act and the education tax credit off the table comes only two days after Cuomo published an op-ed in The New York Post advocating for both initiatives:

The DREAM Act is important because of its message: We are going to work with you and invest in you regardless of where you come from and invest in young people born here and who live here. We must pass the DREAM Act this year.

If passed, the state would join California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington state in helping undocumented residents pay for school and earn degrees. Cuomo’s office estimates the Dream Act would cost about $27 million out of a $141 billion budget and could help many of the estimated 4,500 eligible students pay for college.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

New York is one of 17 states that charges undocumented residents in-state tuition, as opposed to requiring them to pay out-of-state or international rates. But even in-state tuition is no meager sum, and many students struggle to pay their bills.

Claritza Suarez is a high school sophomore from Long Island, New York. She is also undocumented and hopes that by the time she leaves for college, New York state will invest in her future in the same way that it does for other children who grow up there. Immigrants’ rights group Make the Road New York released a statement in response to Cuomo’s decision to pull the Dream Act and quoted Suarez:

Today's news makes me feel like the Governor's just making empty promises to us, and that he's not really standing up for our dreams.

The Dream Act is a common sense idea, argues Robert Smith, a sociology professor at Baruch College who works on immigration. If Dreamers can more easily attain college degrees, he argues, then they will earn more over the course of their lifetimes — which in turn translates to higher tax revenues for the state.

“Long range, it’s unwise not to do this,” Smith told The New York Times. “College grads make a lot more money and pay a lot more taxes than do high school graduates. It’s an argument I’ve been making for 20 years.”

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

But undocumented students are not letting the Dream Act go down without a fight. Monica Sibri, a student at the City University of New York and the founder of the campus advocacy group, CUNY Dreamers, told The New York Times that she cried when she heard the news. Then she promptly organized a protest on Wednesday and began a hunger strike alongside other undocumented students. Sibri told The New York Times:

We’re willing not to eat. We’re willing to give up on that because this means everything. We can’t do anything without an education.

Around 50 people have pledged not to eat until the New York General Assembly passes its 2015 budget, which could take until the end of this week, in order to dramatize how urgently these undocumented students and their families need the Dream Act’s support.

Cuomo has said that he is committed to pushing for the measure after the budget process concludes and will work to introduce it as a stand-alone bill. But advocates of the Dream Act worry that it will only be easier for Republicans in the state senate to block the initiative if they have no skin in the legislative game, so to speak.

Images: Getty Images (3)