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Students Urge NY Lawmakers to Pass DREAM Act

Students Urge NY Lawmakers to Pass DREAM Act

Even as President Obama takes steps to make college more affordable, one group of students is undeniably left out of the conversation: high school students who were brought to this country as children, without documentation, by their parents and have been educated in America’s public education system from an early age. These children often have no connection to the country they were born in.  For more than a decade, the federal government has been considering the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would provide certain undocumented youth conditional legal status and eventual citizenship if they attend college or join the military. As progress quickens and then ultimately slows on this crucial federal legislation, state lawmakers and policy advocates have begun a new fight at the state level.

While the federal government retains the power to bestow citizenship, individual states have the right, and the obligation, to ensure that all students have the ability to succeed.  Illinois and California have already instituted a statewide version of the DREAM Act that allows qualified students to receive in-state tuition rates and state financial aid.  The Maryland legislature also passed a version of the DREAM Act, which has been challenged by opponents and will be presented to voters as a ballot referendum.

More recently, New York State Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares (D-Washington Heights) introduced the New York State Dream Act (S4179/A06829), which aims to do more than just allow access to state financial aid for all students, regardless of immigration status. This bill would allow undocumented young people who meet certain qualifications to access state-funded financial aid programs and obtain a New York driver’s license and work authorization for New York State.

Just this past week high school students from New York City traveled to Albany to urge lawmakers to consider this legislation.  Many of them have begun to earn college credits though dual-enrollment courses and wish to complete their education, but are unable to access funds to attend college because of their status as undocumented immigrants.  The SUNY Board of Trustees, the governing body of the New York University system, has already endorsed this legislation.

It is crucial to remember that these students are in this country because of a decision they had no part in making.  The passage of this legislation in New York, coupled with other states, could be just what is needed to spur the federal government to action. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State is hopeful that lawmakers, advocates and students around New York State will make their voice heard.

Photo courtesy of Mike Xirinachs / WCBS 880

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