By Assemblyman Will Barclay
A few weeks ago, the Assembly passed legislation that, if enacted into law, would allow illegal aliens residing in New York to qualify for state financial assistance for college.
The New York City sponsors of this legislation have billed it as the DREAM Act. However, because it will place an increased burden on our State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), this could become a financial nightmare for the state and for those lower-and middle-class families who are already struggling to afford the ever increasing cost of higher education.
Part of our American culture is that all citizens have the opportunity to seek a better life and the opportunity to attend college is often a pathway to that better life. To that end, in effort to help New York students who come from families who may not otherwise be able to afford college, we have the TAP program which this year will provide $950 million in tuition assistance.
While the $950 million in funding for TAP may seem like a lot of money, because of the increasing pool of applicants and because of the increased cost of college, it is struggling to keep up with demand. Too often families who apply for TAP are either denied or receive only a fractional amount.
If the so-called DREAM Act was to become law, it would place an additional burden on the TAP program by expanding the pool of applicants to those who are not legally residing in New York. This also means our state budget would have to set aside additional money because, presumably, there would be more qualifying applicants. To me, and to I bet most New Yorkers, this is a misplaced priority.
In addition to TAP, under the DREAM Act, illegal aliens would also be eligible for other New York scholarship programs such as the NYS Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), NYS Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-Step).
Some of these programs are not simply based on income eligibility but also are based on other competitive factors. Therefore, adding illegal aliens to the class of those eligible will enlarge the class, further disadvantaging those applicants who are New York and U.S. citizens.
It is important to remember that we are a country of immigrants and we all believe that all people should have the opportunity for a better life. Indeed, illegal immigrant children who were brought into this country by their parents at an early age without any say of their own have done nothing wrong. No one is saying that these children should be penalized. Already, they can attend New York colleges and pay tuition at in-state rates even though they are not technically legal residents. Further, I suspect there would be wide support for the provision in the bill that allows privately-funded scholarships to be set up through the similarly-named DREAM Commission. This would provide private financial aid to illegal immigrant children without using tax dollars.
Immigration matters generally fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal government. Some argue that our current immigration policies are too restrictive.
They also argue that those illegal immigrants who are currently working here in the United States should have a pathway to citizenship. Others say that would simply be rewarding illegal behavior. No matter how you feel about these issues, I think it is clear that New York should not be deciding to confer benefits on illegal aliens that will potentially disadvantage those who are the legal citizens of our country and state.
Accordingly, I voted against the legislation.
Simply put, New York should not enact the DREAM Act.
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