Narrow Senate defeat of a bill seeking state-funded tuition help for college students who are in the country illegally was a blow to young immigrants and their supporters, who said they saw the measure as the best chance of change in years.
The New York Dream Act fell short Monday night 30-29, with two Democrats and all Republicans siding against it. Two senators, including Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), did not vote. Boyle said Tuesday he was absent because of a death in the family.
Supporters, including labor unions and faith groups, continued to lobby for the measure, with some calling for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to tack $20 million onto next year's budget to help those students.
Long Island immigrant advocates blamed the Island's GOP members in the Senate for the loss.
"We are going to make sure that Latinos and other immigrants on Long Island know how their state senators voted," said Patrick Young, program director for the Central American Refugee Center in Brentwood and Hempstead. "We have 450,000 immigrants living on Long Island, and yet we were the only region of the state where every state senator either voted against it or didn't vote."
Gül Berktas, a psychology and women's studies major at Stony Brook University, said, "It was heartbreaking and so devastating, because we were so close and yet so far away."
Berktas, 22, originally from Turkey, holds two jobs to pay for college and said tuition aid would go a long way in helping her "to focus solely on school."
The governor's office had not commented on the budget option, but Cuomo said Monday he was "disappointed" with a vote that denied those students "equal access to higher education and the opportunity that comes with it."
Republicans said they were not to blame for the bill's failure.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) "gave his consent" clearing the way for the vote, said Scott Reif, a Senate Republican Conference spokesman. But the bill did not set age limits, he noted, which "would allow an undocumented immigrant to arrive in New York, take the GED and immediately qualify" for tuition assistance. Republicans estimated that would raise the yearly cost to as much as $70 million.
Boyle said he would have voted against the bill because of concerns about cost.
"I greatly sympathize with the student 'Dreamers' who are in this situation through no fault of their own, and I am open to a dialogue to find other ways to fund it," Boyle said.
The decision means that thousands of high school graduates in the United States illegally will continue to shoulder the cost of higher education. In New York, more than 26,000 young immigrants like them have qualified for deferred status to stop deportations, though not all are college students.Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), a co-sponsor, said the bill should not be seen as immigration policy, but as reform that would "level the playing field for high school graduates across the state" who otherwise couldn't afford college. "This really needs to be a conversation about education," he said.