By David Brand
Both chambers of the state Legislature passed a landmark bill to ensure a right to education and open access to financial aid for non-citizens in New York state on Wednesday, after years of advocacy among immigrants rights groups and Democratic lawmakers.
The Sen. Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, which had passed the state Assembly on numerous occasions, easily passed the Democratic-controlled majority in the Senate and awaits signature by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The bill is named in honor of the late Sen. Peralta, the District 13 senator who died in November from complications stemming from leukemia. Peralta was the first Dominican-American to serve in the state Senate and an advocate for immigrant rights.
“I have long believed in a New York where your immigration status is not a barrier to achieving a high-quality education,” said City Councilmember Francisco Moya, a former assemblymember who sponsored the first version of the DREAM Act in 2013. “For years we have dreamed of this place together. Tomorrow, we will wake up from that dream to find it a reality.”
The DREAM Act will enable undocumented immigrant children who are already students in New York state to qualify for state financial aid for higher education. The bill also creates a “Dream Fund” for college scholarship opportunities and will remove barriers that prevent undocumented immigrant families from college saving programs, according to the bill text.
Cuomo said he intends to sign the bill into law
“As a key part of our Justice Agenda, we look forward to finally making it law for all New Yorkers this year, for Sen. Peralta and the Dreamers,” Cuomo said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former cosponsor of the DREAM Act during his time in the state Senate, said the bill was vital for preserving and uplifting the immigrant character of New York City and state.
“I’m proud that our Albany lawmakers and tireless immigration advocates have made the longtime dream of passage a reality,” Adams said. “It is bittersweet for this legislation to be named in the memory of my colleague Jose Peralta, who led the fight for years and should be here today to celebrate this milestone. We are a nation of immigrants, greater for our diversity and the hyphen that connects our citizenship to our cultural heritage.”
Sen. Peralta’s fellow Queens senators, who had long championed the bill, celebrated its passage Wednesday.
“In the area of education, the state is potentially losing thousands of intelligent and motivated members of the workforce by failing to pass the DREAM Act,” said state Sen. James Sanders. “These students, though undocumented, deserve a chance at success and a path to citizenship. By giving these young people the opportunities they need to succeed, we are helping to build a stronger New York.”
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky recalled supporting the very first senate DREAM Act in 2013.
“Today that pledge becomes a reality for thousands of immigrant students,” Stavisky said. “These students will be given an opportunity to advance their academic careers and the people of New York will benefit from their contributions, both economically and culturally. Immigrants with college degrees will get better-paying jobs, give back to the community and pay taxes. Everybody wins.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also praised the bill.
“No student should have to forgo a college education because they can’t get financial aid. For far too long, undocumented students who are New Yorkers have faced this unjust barrier to realizing their dreams,” de Blasio said. “With the passage of the Sen. Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, I’m so glad to say that we’re finally tearing this wall down. Equal access to education is a human right and the only way we’ll meet the needs of a 21st century economy is to unleash the talents of all New Yorkers.”
Students who had pushed for the bill cheered their success after so many years of effort.
"It just opens up so many doors," said Eugenia Rodriguez, an 18-year-old Long Island woman who was brought here from Argentina when she was less than a year old. Because of the cost, she had to change from going to a four-year college to going to a two-year college for her associates' degree. She will begin classes next week.
"There weren't many options financially for me to go with," she said.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.