The newly Democratic state legislature continues apace with its progressive agenda, having passed the week's second piece of legislation in rejoinder to the Trump administration's right-wing itinerary: The Jose Peralta New York DREAM Act. The Senate approved it on Wednesday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated he will sign it. Once he does, undocumented students will become eligible for state-subsidized financial aid and scholarships to pursue higher education.
Meanwhile, our president continues to hold the government, arguably the whole country, hostage in his extended tantrum over border wall funding.
We just passed the New York State The Dream Act. ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽 https://t.co/PQnLKlHk7N
— State Senator Julia Salazar (@SalazarSenate) January 23, 2019
The NY DREAM Act is a pared-back version of the federal DREAM Act, which would provide an easier path to citizenship for undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as minors. Federal legislation would offer the eligible green cards, so long as they are enrolled in school or members of the military. After five years, Dreamers could apply for citizenship. Congress, however, has consistently failed to pass it, even as President Donald Trump attempts to dismantle the previous administration's protections for undocumented youths.
New York's version passed the Senate 40-20, and the Assembly 90-37. It focuses on education, offering state-funded tuition to undocumented students who have attended a New York high school for at least two years and graduated, or applied to an undergraduate program within five years of getting a high school diploma, or have completed an equivalency degree. It would also establish a DREAM fund to award scholarships to eligible students, which would come from private donations. As a result, an estimated 146,000 young people might now be able to get some help with the prohibitively high cost of a college education.
In a statement to Gothamist, bill sponsor Sen. Luis Sepúlveda called its passage "a significant step forward for hard-working undocumented students who wish to pursue our shared American dream."
"For too long, financial hurdles have prevented these DREAMers from going to college," he added. "I look forward to seeing lives changed by this legislation and remain committed to fighting for every young immigrant to have an equal opportunity to succeed as part of our American family."
Some Republican lawmakers, however, still balked at what a select few have interpreted as special treatment for undocumented immigrants. "How am I supposed to tell families in my Senate district that adequate state aid to help afford college isn’t available for them, but it is available for others who are in this country illegally?" Republican State Sen. James Seward wondered to the NY Times.
Today I met with Evelyn Peralta and the family of the late Senator Jose Peralta, champion of the Dream Act.
As a key part of our Justice Agenda, we look forward to finally making it law for all New Yorkers this year, for Senator Peralta and the Dreamers. pic.twitter.com/cIwP0AM3sY
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 23, 2019
"It took us almost a decade to get the Dream Act, and it's going to take another five, 10, 20 years to undo the damage that Washington is causing our families," Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who was once an undocumented immigrant herself, told the Times. And indeed, much of this year's state-level legislative itinerary does seem intended to provide the social safeguards the Trump administration has done its damndest to dismantle.
On Tuesday, for example, the legislature finally passed the Reproductive Health Act, a measure the previously Republican-controlled body repeatedly shot down for over 10 years. The RHA essentially codifies Roe v. Wade, meaning women can now obtain abortions in New York after 24 weeks—not just in the case of a life-threatening pregnancy, but also in cases of non-viable and health-threatening pregnancies. Further, the RHA also removes abortion from the penal code, meaning doctors and their patients no longer need to fear criminal prosecution for exercising the constitutional right to abortion.
A smiling Cuomo signed the bill into law immediately after it passed. He is also expected to sign the long-awaited ban on gay conversion therapy, which the legislature passed last week, as well as the body's ban on discrimination based on a person's gender identity and expression.