New York is the newest state considering allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for state financial aid for college, The Post-Standard of Syracuse reports. The legislation currently under consideration by the state's lawmakers would give such students access to tax-funded financial aid and similar assistance available to legal immigrants and other state residents.
The proposal – called The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – has the backing of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a lawmaker with a lot of political muscle. Just recently, New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with Republican lawmakers from the state Senate, have also expressed interest in the measure.
It is the state's version of the DREAM Act, the immigration measure long supported by President Barack Obama which would tackle the education-related issues faced by children of illegal immigrants – who are illegal immigrants themselves – who were brought to this country by their parents as very young children. If it passes, it would open up new pathways for such families to make higher education more affordable, as well as provide an alternative source of financial assistance via private donations to scholarship funds.
The federal version has been stalled due to the opposition of Republican representatives in U.S. House.
"Our immigrant families, like many struggling in these trying economic times, need financial help to achieve their educational goals," said Silver. "Investing in these inspiring students represents an investment in our future." Immigrant community leaders and Latino legislators say national and state political trends are helping their cause. In New York, the Latino vote has been courted by Republicans and Democrats.
New York is not the first state to tackle this issue. Students who are unregistered aliens already have access to state assistance in paying for college in Texas, California and New Mexico. New York has also allowed illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges for the last decade.
New York's proposal is expected to be debated by the Legislature in its budget negotiations and could surface as early as Cuomo's budget presentation on Tuesday if he endorses the idea. The roughly $132 billion budget is forecast to have a deficit of more than $1 billion. Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the GOP conference, which balked last year because of cost, will consider several proposals, including Silver's.
The legislative climate in New York is friendlier to a proposal this year because the leadership in the State Senate is now in the hands of a Republican/Democrat coalition. This is expected to lead to a more progressive slate of legislation – of which the DREAM Act is a part – getting a hearing this session.