Immigrant advocates called Wednesday for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s support of a budget proposal that would give access to college financial aid to young immigrants without legal status.
The advocates, meeting at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, released a letter from seven Long Island community groups to Flanagan (R-East Northport) that says the state hurts itself by not helping immigrants pay for college. The measure failed to garner enough support in previous years.
“The number of immigrants on Long Island has doubled” in the last 35 years, the letter said. “In this time, immigrants have contributed tremendously to the economic and cultural development of our region. These contributions can only be magnified if we give undocumented youth the same opportunities to receive a college education as their peers.”
“Every year we have gotten close” to the act’s passage, said Victoria Daza, organizer with Long Island Jobs With Justice, a labor rights group. “The repetitive issue is that . . . no Long Island senator has voted for the Dream Act.”
Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said the Republican leadership’s position hasn’t changed. “We don’t support giving free college tuition to people who are here illegally while middle-class New Yorkers take out massive student loans to pay for college,” Reif said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included the New York Dream Act in his proposed budget this year. It was first introduced as a bill in the legislature in 2011, but was repeatedly postponed and then defeated by one vote in March 2014. It was considered as a budget item during last year’s legislative session and did not make the final agreement.
The act would open access to financial aid through the taxpayer-funded Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, for immigrants known as “Dreamers” — those brought to the United States or who stayed on expired visas when they were minors.
Cuomo’s proposal calls for $27 million for that tuition aid. A budget statement from his office said the initiative “continues the state’s tradition of welcoming immigrants and honoring their contribution to our culture and economy.”
Barrett Psareas, an immigration enforcement proponent who is vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, said nothing has changed to make the measure palatable to him.
“I don’t even want 27 cents set aside from taxpayers money” for the Dream Act, Psareas said. “I don’t believe tax dollars should go to people who are undocumented in the country when we have our legal taxpaying citizens who it should be afforded to.”
For student advocates such as Marcy Suárez, a Brentwood resident brought from Honduras as a child, the lack of progress on the proposal is frustrating. She works part-time to help pay for her political science classes at Suffolk County Community College.
“Just in terms of the economy, it makes sense” to help immigrants pay for college, said Suárez, 20. “We are already people working in the economy, and with a college degree we would be able to contribute more.”