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"Dreamers" call on governor to keep campaign promise

Students march in support of the New York

Students march in support of the New York Dream Act in Hicksville Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. The march, held by Long Island Jobs with Justice, started at the Hicksville LIRR station and ended at Governor Cuomo's regional office at 303 W. Old Country Road in Hicksville. Credit: Barry Sloan

Protesters at a march in Hicksville on Saturday challenged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to include millions of dollars in his budget for college tuition assistance to students who entered the country illegally as children.

Cuomo, who said during his re-election campaign that passing the Dream Act -- which would provide the funding -- was part of his agenda, plans to release his executive budget and "opportunity agenda" at his State of State address Wednesday.

Nearly four dozen people marched about a mile Saturday, from the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station to the state Labor Department building on West Old Country Road, carrying signs and chanting in support of the policy.

Cuomo "needs to follow his word and include the New York Dream Act in his budget this year," said Victoria Daza, immigrant rights organizer with Long Island Jobs with Justice, one of the groups involved in the march.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) opposed the act.

"New Yorkers do not support providing free college tuition to people who are here illegally while hardworking middle-class families scrimp and save, and take out massive college loans that will take them years to repay," Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said in a statement.

Requests for comment to Cuomo's office were not returned.

The act, which would provide tuition assistance for college students who came to the United States illegally as children, was narrowly defeated last year in the State Senate. All Long Island senators either voted against it or were absent.

"We feel a lot of Long Island senators are not representing us adequately and that's why we are pressuring the governor," Daza said.

There are "a lot of dreamers on Long Island," the name for those who would benefit from the state offering its Tuition Assistance Program, she said. March organizers said the Dream Act would provide $17 million in tuition assistance and benefit more than 100,000 students.

"I'm a dreamer," Rubi Catalan said. "It's not only an immigration policy, it's an education policy."

Catalan, 18, of Riverhead, said she came from Guatemala when she was 9 and now studies business at Suffolk County Community College.

Milton Farez, 20, an Ecuador native who lives in East Hampton, said that although he studies business at Long Island University on an academic scholarship, he supports the act.

"A lot of people have the qualifications to go to college, but they don't have the money," Farez said.

Three Nassau police cars trailed the marchers with lights flashing Saturday. The police escort, which organizers said was unexpected, was not confrontational, and police stopped traffic so marchers could cross Old Country Road.

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