As national efforts to address immigration reform flounder amidst partisan infighting, the states have taken it into their own hands to confront this increasingly pressing issue. Most recently, New York has taken up the battle to pass a Dream Act.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) was first introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2001 by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The bill is aimed at providing legal status and a path to citizenship to young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but receive a college education or serve in the military. If students entered the U.S. prior to the age of 15, stayed in the country continually for 5 years, present good “moral character,” graduate from high school or obtain a GED, and complete 2 years of college or military service, they would qualify under the bill.
Although the bill was altered over the past decade throughout its various iterations, the crux -- providing a pathway to citizenship for minors -- has remained the central focus.
The New York Dream Act is a bit more modest, but hits at the same issues. The bill would open state tuition programs to undocumented immigrants attending both public and private colleges. The bill addresses the fundamental inadequacy that children brought to the country illegally -- but have lived most of their lives in the country -- are unable to access the same important benefits citizens possess. The current proposal includes $25 million for a Tuition Assistance Program.New York already allows children who entered the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. Sixteen states in the country allow this measure, but most do not allow for tuition assistance. Only California, Texas, and New Mexico currently extend state tuition to those students. Washington recently passed a measure which, once signed into law, will provide the same.
The bill passed the State Assembly last week and will now reach the Senate where its future is uncertain.
However, the bill has received support from the new mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, which has elevated the bill’s public profile and placed more pressure on the Senate to vote on the bill.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will sign the bill if passed, but has been criticized for his lack of vocal support to push the bill forward.