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State Assembly passes DREAM Act for fifth year in a row

Despite gridlock in Washington, New York State Assembly passed a version of the DREAM Act earlier this month. The bill doesn’t promise a path to citizenship. But it would allow undocumented students access to state financial aid. This will be the fifth consecutive year the bill has been approved in the Assembly, but it has never passed the State Senate. Reporter Colin Marston has more.

MARSTON: In a lot of ways, Busra is your average 23 year old trying to make it in New York City.

BUSRA: I’m going to school full-time, I’m shooting a short film, I just got cast for a show, so I rehearse for that everyday and I work full-time and I still have a social life cause I’m fun but it’s a lot.

MARSTON: But there’s something different about Busra. For one thing, Busra isn’t her real name. We’re not using it because she’s afraid of being deported. Like some other 40,000 people in New York State, she came to the United States at a young age, without papers….

BUSRA: I was born in Turkey, And I moved here when I was seven. I was very lucky growing up. We were middle class.

MARSTON:  But while many middle class families can rely on financial aid to make college affordable Busra’s couldn’t.

BUSRA: That’s when I started to fully come to terms with the fact that I was undocumented.

MARSTON: New York State has offered in-state tuition to undocumented students since 2002, but has not offered scholarships or financial aid. That’s where the New York DREAM Act comes in. It would allow undocumented students access to the state’s $930 million yearly Tuition Assistance Program or TAP. According to the State Comptroller, the new bill would add $20 million, a 2% percent increase. Here’s Speaker Heastie announcing its passage in the New York State Assembly earlier this month:

HEASTIE: We simply cannot achieve our mission to put families first if the most vulnerable among us are forced to live in the shadows, under threat of persecution and deportation, or worse, cut off from critical services they need to live lawful and independent lives.

MARSTON: The bill passed 89-44. Assemblyman Ron Castorina of Staten Island’s South Shore was one of the no votes.

CASTORINA: When you have a situation where middle class citizens in our state in my district can’t get assistance for college, it’s unfathomable that you would support this bill.

MARSTON:  Castorina says it’s ok for Dreamers to get private financial aid, but not public assistance.  First he says the state should make TAP available to more middle-class families. Currently a family has to make $80,000 a year or less to qualify for TAP. Castorina wants to raise that cap to $150,000. Emily Skydel is with NYPIRG – a student advocacy group. She disagrees. She says higher education for undocumented students would benefit the state.

SKYDEL: The reality is that public investment in public education is an investment in our economy.

MARSTON: According to a 2011 study from the University of Buffalo, for every dollar invested in New York’s public higher education system there’s a $5 return through economic growth. For Busra though, this isn’t just policy. It’s her life.

BUSRA: I grew up here. I’m American, I consider myself American, I also consider myself Turkish but I also consider myself just as much American.

MARSTON: The NY Dream Act is currently making its way through the State Senate Higher Education Committee. In the meantime, Busra will continue to pay $8,000 in full tuition at CUNY, unsure what happens next. Colin Marston, Columbia Radio News


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