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Will Governor Cuomo Seize A Major Opportunity With The DREAM Act?

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Governor Cuomo's surprising silence on the New York DREAM Act is business as usual for many elected officials, but it's disappointing coming from him. The Senate bill and its companion legislation in the Assembly would provide financial assistance to immigrant students of illegal status who meet established criteria.

The chief executive of the Empire State, who was heralded for his leadership on same-sex marriage less than a year ago, is sitting noticeably on the sidelines when it comes to immigration reform. Being that the Governor has not publicly supported the DREAM Act legislation, many wondered whether it would be included in the budget as an addition to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) - at a relatively modest $17 million expense to the state.

But, an agreement for the budget was reached with no such provision for TAP included, leaving immigrant residents of New York with a familiar feeling: disappointment.

It is a strange departure from the apparent understanding Governor Cuomo has of investing resources to improve infrastructure throughout the state. What about an investment in the most critical infrastructure we have - people?

Surely, support from over a third of the state's Senators and Assemblypersons, as well as the full backing of Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Gillibrand, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, provides the Governor all the political cover he needs to support the bill. Perhaps the Governor feels that getting the necessary votes from Republicans would burn too much political capital, something he is not willing to do with the Minimum Wage legislation on deck.

We remember the Marriage Equality Act was passed at the close of session last June with considerable concessions from the Governor to conservatives to get it done. I suspect that if this bill does become law, it will be done in much the same way. This is far from a guarantee. Let us also remember Harry Reid trying to insert the federal DREAM Act in at the close of session in late December 2010, only to fail in getting it passed.

The best chance for passage is for three Republican Senators representing large immigrant populations to put their support behind the bill. Namely, Lee Zeldin, Jack Martins, and Carl Marcellino - all of whom represent districts on Long Island with strong Hispanic populations. With three months left in session and the Minimum Wage and Hydrofracking among the few pieces of major legislation on the docket this year, the hope is that something can still get done in the next few months.

It is well-known that there is more in play here: a possible Presidential run in 2016. However, I see this as a reason to get something done rather than a reason not to.

With the Obama Administration deporting people in record numbers and GOP candidates routinely one-upping one another in terms of how insensitive they can be to the wishes of the Hispanic electorate, one might see this as time of great opportunity for a rising star of the Democratic Party. With his track record in just his first two years in office, he would at once be able to rally a disillusioned progressive base with his endorsement of marriage equality and a dejected Hispanic electorate clamoring for their voices to be heard.

This is an opportunity not only for Andrew Cuomo, but for the United States as a whole. Immigration is in our DNA, it is a vital stitch in the fabric of America from coast to coast. When we have the opportunity to do the right thing we have an obligation to seize it. It is our charge as citizens to make it known that this is important to us and we expect our elected officials to provide the leadership in making it happen.

"From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome."

May the light never go out.