The New York State Assembly approved a measure earlier this month that would make it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain college scholarships.
The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly on May 1 with only six nay votes, would create the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM fund. The fund would be made up of private dollars from donations and doled out by an independent commission, whose members would be appointed by the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The bill would also make it easier for undocumented immigrants to set up a 529 college savings plan, a bank account operated by the state that is designed to help families set aside money for college costs. It would require a tax identification number to establish an account. A tax ID number is a number the federal government gives to an individual who is not a citizen but is earning income that is taxed, according to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
“We all know higher education, college education, is a ticket to success,” said Mr. Thiele, who was one of 138 legislators who voted for the bill. “It’s a very creative approach to a very thorny problem.”
Now the bill goes to the New York State Senate for a vote. It’s unclear where the Senate will fall on the bill, Mr. Thiele said, but lawmakers are likely to be heartened by the fact that no public dollars are going into the measure.
“I think why this is bipartisan—at least in the Assembly and there is not political conflict over this is because this is an initiative that deals with private sector dollars and not public dollars,” Mr. Thiele said.
Assemblyman Franciso P. Moya, of Queens, the lead sponsor of the DREAM fund act, lauded the bill.
“As long as there has been the United States of America, there has been one overriding American Dream: that people could come here, from around the world, and they would have the opportunity to work hard and build a better life for their families,” he stated. “The DREAM Fund Commission will keep that dream alive for children of immigrants with the potential to achieve greatness. This is also a critical step toward ending the discrimination against children of immigrants that is currently drawing nationwide attention.”School officials at East Hampton and Southampton school districts said the bill would be welcome relief to students who want to go to college but their families can’t afford the cost. Asked how much of a relief, Eugene Kelley, the director of the East Hampton School District’s English as a Second Language program replied: “big time.”
“I think this, if it goes through, will be extremely valuable,” said Mr. Kelley, noting that anecdotally, he can think of several students who could benefit from the law. “There’s definitely a group of students that would benefit. And I think statewide, it’s a substantial number.”
Mr. Kelley added that he frequently sees cases where students opt to work and support their families financially instead of attending college.
Dr. Richard Boyes, the superintendent of the Southampton School District, also said the bill would help, noting that an increasing number of students are enrolling in ESL in the lower grades. He couldn’t provide specific statistics.
“Obviously, it could help,” Dr. Boyes said. “I have to say right now I don’t have a lot of information on it. But we certainly have some very capable immigrant children whose families don’t have the means to go to certain types of colleges.”
Getting a scholarship could mean the difference between attending a two-year institution like community college, or a four-year school, said Mr. Kelly. It would increase a student’s ability to choose from a wider range of schools, he said.
One undocumented East End immigrant from Guatemala, Jon, who would not give his last name, said he could see the bill being useful to some families. The 19-year-old said he attends college part-time and works full-time to pay for his education—which he said is a tiring feat.
“The fact is, if you don’t have a college degree, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “In order to get somewhere, you’ve got to make a sacrifice. The more I sacrifice, the more further down the road I’ll get.”