Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New York DREAMs of State-Level Tuition for Undocumented Students

New York DREAMs of State-Level Tuition for Undocumented Students

             The federal DREAM Act proposes legislation for the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors. But with the DREAM Act stuck in political gridlock on Capitol Hill, students and immigration advocacy organizations are renewing the fight for DREAM enactments at the state level, particularly in relation to financial aid for undocumented students. Notably in California, the DREAM Act found approval in the State Legislature and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011. Currently, 16 states offer college tuition for undocumented students who meet certain criteria. California alone supplies financial aid to the undocumented through the state’s own DREAM Act. The financial burden caused by ever-increasing tuition costs and low wages is a major obstacle for undocumented students eager to attend college. As demonstrated by U.S. Bureauof Labor Statistics data, workers who have college degrees (bachelor’s or advanced) earn almost twice as much as workers who don’t. Higher salaries generate more revenue from income tax and increased spending, which also means greater revenue from sales tax.
In New York State, U.S. citizens and permanent residents receive TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) funds when they meet eligibility criteria. Specifically excluded from TAP eligibility are undocumented students, as they do not meet the residency criteria under current laws. The New York State DREAM Act aims to extend TAP eligibility to undocumented students if they meet the following guidelines:
• Students must have attended high school for two years and graduated or have a New York State general equivalency diploma (GED).
• They must enroll in a college or university in New York State within five years of graduating from high school.
• Students must affirm they will apply for legal immigration status as soon as they are able to do so.

In addition to the aforementioned guidelines, undocumented students must also meet TAP requirements, which include:
• Enrollment as a full-time student taking 12 or more credits
• Declaration of a major by the second year of a two-year program or by the third year of a four-year program

• Maintenance of a C average

In order for a bill to pass in New York State, it must gain both Assembly and State Senate approval before being signed by the governor. In the midst of an economic recession, the New York State DREAM Act failed to garner the necessary support from the Republican base, as the expansion of TAP was deemed adversarial to Republican-backed austerity measures.
Critics of the NYS DREAM Act say that providing TAP to undocumented students is far too costly and would add to the mounting budget deficit. Despite their claim, research conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute indicates that the expansion of TAP would require only $17 million in additional income tax revenue, which would amount to merely $.26 for taxpayers making $20,000 to $25,000, $.87 for taxpayers with incomes of between $45,000 and $50,000, and $4.92 for taxpayers making $150,000 to $200,000. This cost-benefit analysis highlights the clear advantage of passing the NYS DREAM Act.
Passage of the NYS DREAM Act benefits society not just economically but socially. Undocumented youth have been educated in the New York public school system and have grown up alongside their documented peers. Many are fully integrated members of society—eager to contribute and make a difference. Providing tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants yields a positive return on investment for the community as a whole.
Broadening access to higher education increases high school graduation rates and college enrollment for undocumented youth, which corresponds to a decrease in crime. Education leads to a safer society. Giving undocumented youth greater access to higher education encourages them to work ever harder in high school and obtain a diploma, making it less likely they’ll turn to crime.
The number of jobs that require a college diploma continues to expand, and it is important the state invests in higher education to meet this burgeoning job growth. There are currently many paths to obtaining work authorization, and even people without such authorization continue to contribute. A more educated population makes for increased job creation and, ultimately, innovation. A win-win for New York. 

Jung Rae Jang
Eve C Guillergan PLLC
Tel: (212) 279-9020