More than a dozen immigrant advocates rallied Wednesday outside the district office of state Sen. Lee M. Zeldin (R-Shirley) to ask for his support for legislation that would give undocumented immigrants financial aid for college.
The legislative proposals — known as New York’s DREAM Act — would free up state-funded tuition assistance, allow the use of tax-deferred accounts for college savings and permit privately funded scholarships for thousands of immigrant students who reside in the state illegally.
But advocates have become increasingly frustrated because the effort has not gained much traction and none of Long Island’s state senators support the bills so far.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Karina Claudio-Betancourt, an advocate in Brentwood with Make the Road New York. “Our strategy has now shifted,” she added, to targeting individual senators and Assembly members such as Zeldin, whose district includes parts of the Central Islip and Brentwood areas where many immigrants live.
Zeldin issued a statement Wednesday saying he is not in favor of the DREAM proposals.
“I do not support expanding eligibility for college scholarships to undocumented immigrants at the expense of immigrants who are lawfully in our country,” Zeldin said. “Clearly, our country’s current immigration system is not working, and I hope the Federal government develops a more effective process.”
Advocate Deborah Kirnon, outreach director at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood, echoed the sentiments of others at the rally who don’t want the state to deny aid to undocumented students.
“You tell them they can have a free education to the age of 18. To do what? Nothing with it. While their friends are going to their guidance counselors and preparing for their future, these poor kids can’t even have a chance at any kind of future,” Kirnon said. “They just want an opportunity.”
Above: State Sen. Lee M. Zeldin (R-Shirley)