New York Dream Act heads to the Senate, but may face a fight
HOST INTRO: You may have heard of the federal DREAM act—The bill that would give undocumented kids a path to permanent residency in the U.S. But this week, the New York State assembly passed a DREAM act of their own. Governor Cuomo says he’ll sign the bill into law. But first, it faces a tough fight in the Senate. Katie Toth reports.
John Jay College senior Raphy Martinez has lived in New York since he was four. And he’s spent his last five years in school trying to make ends meet.
MARTINEZ: “It’s that constant struggle and idea that you won’t be able to finish on time just like you planned to.”
After high school, Martinez spent a semester asking himself how he was going to pay for university. He’s undocumented, so he can’t apply for federal aid. Instead, he gets money from his parents, he works full time as a security guard, and he takes a smaller class load.
MARTINEZ: “If the DREAM Act had passed four years ago I would definitely graduated in 2012.”
He’s talking about the New York Dream Act, a bill that could give folks like Martinez access to state financial aid programs. For the bill to pass the Senate, it needs 32 votes. Only 30 Democrats are in office right now. So even IF the party votes unanimously, it still needs Republican support. That means Democrats are lobbying two Long Island Republicans: Jack Martins and Lee Zeldin.
But Senator Zeldin says there’s no way the bill will get his vote.
ZELDIN: “That’s a line I’m not willing to cross.”
Zeldin says expanding TAP to undocumented students—when many of his constituents aren’t even eligible—just isn’t fair. Besides, he says, the DREAM act is a band-aid for a much bigger problem.
ZELDIN: “You know, we have state and local governments trying to deal with an immigration system that is in need of a change.”
Ruben Diaz is a Democratic Senator who represents the Bronx. He says if Cuomo had pushed for the bill earlier, the landscape in the Senate now might be different.
DIAZ: “He’s trying to wash his hands and put the blame with the Republicans. But he didn’t do that with gay marriage!”
Diaz says if the governor was really serious about the DREAM Act, he would have written it into his executive budget. On the other hand, if Cuomo had done that, he could have put the whole budget in jeopardy.
Activists remain optimistic about the bill’s future. Kevin Stump, is an education advocate for the New York Public Interest Research Group. The Senate’s co-majority-leader Jeff Klein has already called the bill a priority. Stump says that means—
STUMP: “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t get this done this session.
But Democratic Senator Klein won’t just need to sway enough Senators for a successful vote. He’ll also need the support of his doppleganger, Republican Dean Skelos. Skelos is the other co-majority Senate leader. And Skelos gets veto power over which bills even make it to the floor.
Raphy Martinez graduates this summer, so he won’t be eligible for tuition assistance. But he still hopes to see the New York DREAM Act pass, before he gets his diploma.
MARTINEZ: “We just got to keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing. Even though it won’t benefit me. It would definitely benefit the other students who are coming in to college for the first time.”
Klein and Skelos have until June to bring the bill up for debate.
Katie Toth, Columbia Radio News.