Proponents of the New York State Dream Act have until April 1 to convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include the bill in the 2013 budget. If they fail, it’s not for lack of trying.
On Thursday, hundreds of students and activists stationed themselves in front Cuomo’s office in the heart of Manhattan to condemn the exclusion of the New York State Dream Act from the fiscal year 2013 budget.
The proposed bill would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements—as residents of New York for at least one year and with a high school or equivalent diploma—to continue their education into the university level.
“Cuomo, let us dream,” “Our dreams cannot wait,” and “Dream Act now,” read the signs held up by protesters. The Youth Leadership Council of New York reported that three of its activists, Janet Perez, Sara Martinez and Rosario Quiroz, all of Mexican descent, were arrested by police.
“We want the governor to be sensitive to our cause. All we ask is for an opportunity to study and prosper in society,” said Raul Macias, a Mexican who plans to study in New York’s university system.
Rodolfo Diaz, a student and member of the Youth Leadership Council, was among those optimistic that Cuomo will add the Dream Act to the budget.
“The governor will, and we expect that is what will happen. It is a law that will benefit everyone,” Diaz said.
The governor, however, has remained silent on the question of tuition aid for undocumented immigrants, despite statements of support from education institutions such as the State University of New York and City University of New York. Cuomo’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, was optimistic about the governor’s response. “It’s only a matter of time before Cuomo ultimately supports the Dream Act New York project.”
“Although some believe that his reluctance to support the Dream Act is because of his presidential ambitions, Cuomo is politically astute and knows the growing importance of the Latino vote on a national scale. Not doing so makes no political sense,” Falcon said.
Many, however, are more critical of the New York governor and other politicians who have not supported the bill, and among them are the thousands of undocumented students who still hope for the state’s version of the Dream Act.
“It is morally outrageous that Governor Cuomo did not support the effort to integrate all young New Yorkers into the society at large,” said Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Immigrant Alliance of Long Island, at another demonstration held in Long Island at the headquarters of state Sen. Lee M. Zeldin, a Republican.
Zeldin, who represents District 3 of Long Island, has said he does not support the Dream Act because it would come at the expense of those legal immigrants already in the United States.
“I do not support expanding eligibility for college scholarships to undocumented immigrants at the expense of immigrants who are lawfully in our country,” Zeldin said in an emailed statement to The Huffington Post. “Clearly, our country’s current immigration system is not working, and I hope the Federal government develops a more effective process. The need to address our nation’s illegal immigration problem is critical for the long term success of our republic.”
The activists protesting at his office said they will continue to fight until funds for the Dream Act are approved in the state. They urged Zeldin not to criminalize undocumented students who, in most cases, arrived in the U.S. as children and did not have another alternative.
“This is an opportunity for the legislators to demonstrate their leadership and begin to change these unjust dynamics. We young people have the potential and intelligence to make the economy of Long Island improve and grow, as well as our country,” said Natalia Aristizabal of Make the Road New York.
As for the country as a whole, proponents are working to make New York the fourth state after Texas, New Mexico and California—to adopt a statewide version of the Dream Act.
“While other politicians do the right thing despite knowing full well that they will be attacked by restrictionists, the governor, with the exclusion of the Dream Act in the budget, once again deceives 99 percent of those who put him in office,” the Immigrant Alliance’s Valenzuela said.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins, an advocacy group that touts immigration solutions that work for a wide group of people, said, “At a time when the state of New York needs to maximize the economic contributions of its youth, Governor Cuomo made the wrong decision to not include funds for the Dream Act New York in its budget.”
But Sinclair Slutsky was confident the governor would reconsider his decision the next time around, although she insisted that none of the nine Long Island senators supported the project.
“Sen. Lee M. Zeldin, in particular, whose district is a quarter Hispanic, should by common sense support the Dream Act for the prosperity of Long Island and the future of the state of New York,” Sinclair Slutsky said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been more vocal than Cuomo on the issue. On Tuesday he reiterated his support of the Dream Act and, by extension, his approval of comprehensive immigration reform.
“We are committing national suicide and there is absolutely no reason for it. If we want to boost the economy, the minimum we need to do is pass the Dream Act,” Bloomberg said.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., also asked for the governor’s support in an op-ed published in the Spanish language daily El Diario/La Prensa last Friday
which was republished in English by The Huffington Post.
“At least half a million immigrants, many of whom are among the undocumented, live in the Bronx. It’s crucial for our state to take the initiative of helping our undocumented youth,” Diaz said.
Andrea Alarcon, an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who studies at the University of Albany, stressed the importance of the Dream Act for education.
“My grandparents always said that education cannot be denied to young people, but now we see that ‘the champion of education,’ as the governor calls himself, is robbing me of the opportunity; that’s what he’s doing,” Alarcon said.
The New York Public Interest Research Group called for sending thousands of letters asking the governor for some sensitivity toward the Dream Act cause.
“We urge the authorities to reverse the trend of increasing the cost of education on the backs of students,” said Kathleen Jordan, board president of the NYPIRG.
According to the City University of New York, the state’ s public university system, about 146,000 young, undocumented people who have been educated in public schools in the city could be eligible to receive financial assistance under the Dream Act of New York, if enacted.
About 4,500 undocumented students graduate from high schools in the city each year, of which only 5 percent earn a college degree due to financial constraints, according to CUNY.
Said Alarcon, “The Dream Act can’t wait.”