Immigrant and students groups beseech Gov. Cuomo to throw his support behind a DREAM Act for New York State

Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 6:56 PM

Some speculated that failure of Gov. Cuomo to back N.Y. State DREAM Act - which would enable undocumented immigrant students to qualify for state-based financial aid - last year was linked to his political ambition; after Latinos' heavy influence in the reelection of President Obama, supporting this measure should be a no-brainer

New York DREAM Act students are anxiously awaiting Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech, to be delivered today in Albany.

They, along with a coalition of immigrant rights, Latino advocacy, labor and community organizations, released a letter addressed to Cuomo on Monday, two days before his annual speech, asking the governor to declare his support for the New York State DREAM Act and reaffirm New York’s tradition as a progressive and welcoming state.

There is urgency in the letter’s tone, and not only because it was made public so close to the governor’s speech; despite Dreamers’ high expectations, Cuomo failed to throw his weight behind the bill last year.

The letter — which is signed by the Chinese Progressive Association; the DREAM Action Coalition; the Hispanic Federation; the Hotel Trades Council; Make the Road New York; Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition and others — notes that Texas, New Mexico and California have all enacted laws that permit undocumented students to apply for state-based financial aid.

“Adopting a similar policy in New York would provide more academically qualified students, who already reside here, the opportunity to earn a college degree,” the groups write. “They, in turn, will contribute to the state’s economy by earning more and paying higher taxes.”

Some have speculated that the governor’s snub last year was due to the fact that he was pondering a presidential run in 2016.

Cuomo — undoubtedly an astute politician — should be ready to declare his enthusiastic support for an Empire State DREAM Act. Latino voters played a major role in the Romney debacle last year, throwing considerable weight behind President Obama’s resounding bid for a second term.

The New York DREAM Act was introduced last year by Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) and then-Assemblyman Guillermo Linares (D-Washington Heights).

The bill would expand the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to include qualified, undocumented young people in New York who are striving for a higher education. The measure would not give those students a path to legalization or citizenship.

Undocumented students already qualify for resident tuition status for universities and colleges in the state and city systems, but they can’t apply for state-backed financial aid.

“For undocumented youth such as myself, passing the New York DREAM Act would allow us to overcome a tremendous hurdle in our lives,” said Janet Pérez, president of the Lehman College DREAM Team. “It is more than just another piece of legislation.”

It certainly is. The law would benefit an estimated 200,000 immigrant students in New York State who were brought to the country before the age of 18, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED and are undocumented. It has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the state Board of Regents.

“With President Obama engaging a national conversation on immigration reform, we must move swiftly and strongly as a progressive state,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Queens). “By including the New York State DREAM Act in his State-of-the-State and making it a priority for this session, Gov. Cuomo has the opportunity to not only show his commitment to helping young immigrant youth pursue their American dream, but his commitment to keeping New York the progressive leader in this nation.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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