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Immigrant advocates ask Cuomo to fund tuition aid

Student advocates and their allies, on Wednesday, March

Student advocates and their allies, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 in Hicksville, rally outside the Long Island Regional Office for NY state government, calling for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to revive the NY Dream Act proposal that would have granted state-funded financial aid to immigrant college students who live in the country illegally. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island advocates joined calls for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to revive a failed proposal to give young immigrants, brought illegally to the United States as minors, tuition aid by funding it through next year's budget.

About a dozen New York Dream Act supporters, who seek $25 million in tuition assistance for 2015, rallied Wednesday outside the New York State Department of Labor in Hicksville. Protesters -- who chanted "Cuomo! Cuomo! Add the Dream Act now!" -- argued that an allocation amounting to about 2 percent of the budget would signify a substantial investment in higher education for "Dreamer" students who lack legal status.

"Giving students access to a better education will probably contribute to the state collecting more on taxes than it does when a person only has a high school diploma," said Osman Canales, an activist with the Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates.

A similar protest took place Wednesday afternoon in midtown Manhattan.

"The simple message we are trying to say is the governor has to include it in the budget," said Javier Valdés, a New York City advocate who is co-director of the nonprofit Make The Road New York. He said discontent is growing in immigrant communities because "we got set up to lose" when Democratic and Republican leaders put forth the vote without securing the bill's passage.

The Dream bill fell two votes short last week, with all senators from Long Island voting against it or abstaining. Cuomo issued no new statements, though he had backed the bill. Asked about making it part of the budget after the vote, he pointed to Republican opposition, saying "the Senate's position is that they took a vote . . . and the Dream Act went down."

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A Siena College poll this week showed New York voters are cool on the plan as 56 percent oppose removing immigration status restrictions to financial aid.

That's the sentiment of Barrett Psareas, vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association. "If you're man enough to say 'I want money from the state,' " he said, "you can be man enough to go back to your country, work there to come back legally and then we can talk about a college education."

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