From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. The next issue up: the New York State DREAM Act.
After President Donald Trump announced his intention to end the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which provided legal status to some 700,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the country as children, some New York lawmakers expressed an elevated sense of urgency to fill the void.
“New York is the antithesis of what this president believes about immigration,” Governor Andrew Cuomo declared in a press conference announcing an executive order requiring ICE to have a warrant to make an arrest in a state-owned facility (a measure that some said didn’t go far enough because it didn’t extend to courthouses where ICE has been staking out and arresting undocumented people).
Though both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio see themselves as leaders of the Democratic resistance to Donald Trump, with immigration policy a key part of their rallying cry, there is only so much legislation they can actually pass with a Republican majority in the State Senate.
This year Cuomo tried and failed to pass The New York state DREAM Act, a key piece of legislation that would offer undocumented students scholarships to attend college. Here's what you need to know.
What is The NYS DREAM Act?
It’s not about residency or status. It’s about money for college.
Not to be confused with the federal version of The DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, the state bill would allow undocumented immigrants to access the same in-state scholarships and financial aid available to U.S. citizens. The bill would cost $27 million. The last state budget was $168 billion.
Could it pass if Democrats take control of the State Senate in November?
The legislation was first introduced in 2013 by Senator José Peralta and then-Assemblyman Francisco Moya as the sponsors in each chamber. It passed the Assembly, and was defeated in the State Senate in 2014 with two “no” votes from the Democrats—Ted O’Brien (who is no longer in the Senate) and Simcha Felder (who is).
Unlike other progressive bills, however, this bill garnered support from the IDC—a group of eight renegade Democrats that often caucused with the Republicans—because its sponsor, Peralta, was an IDC member. Now that Peralta (along with most other former IDC members) has been voted out in the primary, the bill will need a new sponsor. “It won’t be hard,” Felipe De La Hoz, reporter for Documented, said on The Brian Lehrer Show Friday. “Jessica Ramos [who defeated Peralta] said she supports the bill.”
What could be hard is getting the Democrats who say they support the bill to push for it when the time comes. “The DREAM Act is often perceived as being something that Democrats want to pass, but not something that Democrats want to spend a lot of political capital time on,” said De La Hoz “It could go to the end of legislative the line again.”
The Case For:
According to the New York Assembly, “Estimates show that of the roughly 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from New York High Schools every year, only 5-10 percent are able to pursue a college education because of financial burden.” The NYS DREAM Act would make New York the fifth state in the country to make college more affordable to undocumented students by allowing them to receive state financial aid. It would also create a private scholarship fund for the children of immigrants, and allow undocumented students and their families to open college savings accounts.
“It’s a chance,” said De La Hoz, “for people who already pay taxes to get the same types of educational opportunities as citizens.”
The Case Against:
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican who represents the 2nd District in Suffolk County, has made his party’s stance very clear. “Our members are very strongly opposed to the DREAM Act,” Flanagan said last year, arguing that his primary obligation is "to make sure we’re taking care of the hard-working middle class taxpayers who are struggling right now."
In a campaign ad, Republican Dean Murray, who is running in Long Island in the 3rd Senate district against Monica Martinez, condemned the Act for allegedly taking scholarships away from children of tax-paying families, and promised, “I will not reward illegal activity at the expense of our legal, law-abiding citizens.”
De La Hoz, however, says the idea that immigrants don’t pay taxes is not true: “Undocumented people pay taxes—they pay federal income taxes and state taxes through purchases. It’s not like this money is being paid by citizens and then going back to undocumented people. Technically they’re paying for it as well."
For more on the NY State Dream Act, listen to Brian Lehrer's segment on the issue here: