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Why New York Needs a DREAM Act

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(The following is the English version of an op-ed that was published in the March 23, 2012, edition of El Diario La Prensa. The original, Spanish-language version of that piece can be read here.)

Every year thousands of undocumented youth who graduate from New York high schools face an uncertain future because of their immigration status.

Despite immense support for the DREAM Act, in 2010, the Unites States Congress failed to pass the bill. As a result, this has left undocumented youths in the Bronx, in New York State, and across the country without any form of relief.

As a state with one of the largest immigrant populations, New York should be at the forefront of progressive immigration policies. I strongly believe it is crucial for our state to take the initiative in helping our undocumented youth. In the Bronx alone, we have roughly half a million foreign-born individuals from all across the globe. If we do not pass this legislation, we risk squandering the intellectual capital of this fast growing population.

Introduced by Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and State Senator Bill Perkins, in 2011, the New York State DREAM Act, would support the extension of the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and other scholarships to all students, regardless of immigration status. It would also create a commission to raise private funds for all children of immigrants, and allow undocumented students and their families to open up college savings accounts.

Thirteen states, including New York, allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates but only three -- New Mexico, California, and Texas -- allow them to receive government tuition aid.

New York should become the fourth. These students deserve the chance to get a good education, and help grow our economy.

Critics have said that if this bill were to pass, it would be a financial burden on the backs of New York taxpayers and that our documented New Yorkers will lose spots in colleges.

In fact, a new study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, the NYS Dream Act would benefit roughly 5,500 undocumented students and would add approximately $17 million, or only 2 percent, to the cost of the Tuition Assistance Program.

Moreover, the benefits of having students with college degrees entering the workforce are far beyond the cost to extend TAP.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those who obtain a Bachelor's degree earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with a high school degree, contributing tens of thousands of dollars to our economy and higher income taxes for New York State.

The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that undocumented immigrants paid $662.4 million in taxes to New York State in 2010, making us the state with the fourth highest revenue in taxes from undocumented immigrants.

Giving a boost to the dreams of our undocumented young people is not only the decent thing to do; it's also a necessary investment and a social, academic, and economic imperative.

The students who will benefit from the DREAM legislation are some of New York's brightest. They are the friends of our children who have been raised and educated in our schools, our churches, and our neighborhoods.

That is why I support this bill, and urge it be passed.