A new bill has been placed before New York state lawmakers by the Board of Regents, allowing undocumented students to receive financial aid for postsecondary education.
Immigration is a hot topic on both sides of the congressional floor in this country, as lawmakers continue to debate the legal, ethical and moral issues surrounding undocumented persons living in the United States. In the center of the battle are undocumented students who came to this country with their parents and now face high school graduation with little hope for the future. This past week, the state of New York made a move to change the fate of the thousands of undocumented students living there, with a vote by the Board of Regents to allow undocumented students access to state financial aid for higher education.
Vote First Step in Immigration Reform for State
According to a report in the New York Daily News, the vote by the state Board of Regents does not officially change the status of undocumented students who wish to pursue higher education in the United States – yet. The hope is that this positive vote will spur lawmakers to extend financial aid to these students through their means. The bill, referred to as the Education Equity for DREAMers Act, has not yet been brought before the legislature for any sort of decision or vote. However, the preliminary vote by the Board of Regents may be the push state lawmakers need to put this bill on their table as well.
“These are students who are attending our K-12 schools, and we want to make sure that they have the full range of opportunities open to them when they graduate from high school,” state Education Commissioner John King told the News. Although the bill has yet to go before state lawmakers, some supporters of the bill are sensing optimism that the legislature may be open to consideration of the bill in the near future.
“My sense is that there is enthusiasm in the legislature for moving forward on this issue. I think people are aware that this is a very smart investment,” King added.
The Problem of Undocumented Students
The New York Daily News reports that there are approximately 10,000 undocumented students graduate from New York public schools today. A report at the Queens Chronicle estimates that there are around 345,000 students in the New York public school system that are in the country illegally. Although these students currently qualify for in-state tuition rates at CUNY and SUNY schools, they are ineligible for state aid available through the Tuition Assistance Program or TAP. Many of these students cannot afford the cost of tuition on their own, even if they manage to get scholarships to foot part of the bill.
One such student is Melissa Garcia Velez, a 19-year old who is attending Lehman College. Garcia Velez came to the United States with her parents when she was eight-years-old and has lived in this country ever since. Although Garcia received a $1,500 scholarship to help with the cost of higher education, she is still responsible for more than $1,000 in tuition bills each semester, not to mention expenses like books and other supplies – a hardship for the young, struggling student.
“It would ease our pain, our uncertainty and make education more of a reality,” Garcia Velez told the News.
“As a student and an immigrant, I can understand how other immigrants feel about not being a citizen and having to go back to your country after graduating from high school,” Daniel a student at Flushing International High School stated at the New York Immigration Coalition website. “Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college and fulfill their American dream. As of today, America has been deporting a great amount of immigrant youth who are smart and hard-working people. This nation is losing all these amazing people, whose only intention is to be productive in our society. We need them to contribute to this nation to make it a better place for all people. If we kept all of our undocumented students, it’s a way of investing in America’s future.”
The Next Step
While the vote by the Board of Regents does not pave the way for students to receive financial aid in New York, it is a sound first step. According to a report at From the Square, the recent vote urges state lawmakers to make undocumented students eligible for grants of up to $5,000 – the amount available to students through TAP. If the vote passed through the New York legislature as well, it would make New York one of just four states that allow undocumented students to receive financial aid. The other states that already allow for aid include Texas, California and New Mexico.
New York is already one of 11 states that allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition and state schools. In New York, students can qualify for in-state tuition if they can show they have lived in the state for at least four years and sign a document stating that they are seeking legal residency. Unfortunately for many of these students, obtaining legal status is easier said than done, and many are never able to complete their goal.
In addition to introducing its own Education Equity for DREAMers Act, the New York Board of Regents also showed support for the state’s Dream Act, designed after the federal bill with the same title. This act would allow undocumented New York residents access to driver’s licenses, health insurance and jobs in state government. The federal Dream Act, if passed, would also pave the path for faster, easier citizenship for these residents.
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