Why Governor Cuomo Should Include Funds for the DREAM Act in the NY State Budget
March 27, 2014
The NY Dream Act was rejected by the Senate last week by a narrow margin (30-29). Advocates for the Dream Act still hope to keep the dream alive and are pushing to have funds allocated for it in the State budget due April 1st. Critics of the measure vociferously oppose spending taxpayer money on people in the country illegally. As an immigration attorney, it’s frustrating to see opinions and, worse, legislative action, driven by misinformation. So as the debate for the NY Dream Act continues, below are some myth-busting facts.
First, critics strongly oppose spending millions of taxpayer dollars to fund the education of undocumented immigrants. The fact is that our Congress already spends millions of taxpayer dollars on an education system that educates these very same undocumented young adults from kindergarten through high school. Why cut off spending at the door of higher education?
Moreover, undocumented immigrants are a large contributor of these very same taxpayer dollars. According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants paid approximately $662.4 million in taxes to NY in 2010, the fourth highest amount in the country. It is estimated that the NY Dream Act would cost approximately $25 million to fund. Arguably, it could be funded by taxpayer dollars from undocumented immigrants alone. Not only that, but with the payment of taxes, undocumented immigrants are already contributing towards the education of US citizens. Why should their own children be excluded from this benefit?
The NY Dream Act, in addition to access to state financial aid and scholarships, would provide qualified students with access to the tax-free 529 College Savings Program. 529 Plans are tax-favored investment plans that allow parents to set aside money for a child’s college education. Although the program is administered by the State, again, it would be the parents of these undocumented students, not someone else (i.e., a US citizen), paying for the child’s college education by opening up an account and contributing to it. The NY Dream Act would also establish private funds for college scholarships. If a private donor (one with legal status or not) wished to contribute towards an undocumented student’s college education, why oppose it? There are already a number of private education funds and scholarships set up for African-American students, Asian students, those interested in a particular major, for athletes… why not one for students without status? Education is a dream and a goal for almost everyone, regardless of nationality or status.
Second, critics argue that US citizen families themselves are struggling with the rising cost of higher education. The fact is that there isn’t going to be increased “competition” for education dollars or college seats. The number of students the passage of the NY Dream Act would impact is minimal. In the states that have already extended in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, there has not been an influx of students applying for college and taking seats away from otherwise eligible US citizens. College tuition is expensive for most immigrant families, even at the in-state tuition rate. Even with financial aid and scholarships, it may still be an unaffordable option for many.
Third, critics oppose “rewarding” individuals for breaking the law. The fact is that the circumstance of these students’ status is a consequence of our own broken immigration system. Many of these young adults don’t even understand what their status (or lack thereof) means until they attempt to apply for college. If they could adjust their status, they would. But given our broken immigration system, the only option at the moment would be deportation, very often to a country they can’t even recall ever calling “home”. In spite of their status, most of these undocumented students live law-abiding lives. In my practice, I have represented many of them—they excel at school, play team sports, participate in community church activities, aspire to be lawyers, FBI agents, scientists, and most have no criminal record whatsoever.
The real “reward” would be to our State and economy as a whole. Each person that stays in school and obtains a degree and a job is one less person dependent on our social services system and one less person in our criminal justice system. Each person that obtains a Bachelor’s degree will earn $1 million more in his or her lifetime over someone with just a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s tens of thousands of dollars to the State’s economy.
Standing in the way of these promising young adults only undermines our future as a whole. Investing in all our children is an investment we make in our communities and our economy in the long run. Governor Cuomo should include funds for the NY Dream Act in the State budget.