Heed the Regents

New York is slowly waking up to the reality that thousands of students educated by our schools are not able to go to college, get a decent paid job or give back to society – all on account of their immigration status.

Last month, the Board of Regents – the highest education authority in the state of New York- sent a message to Washington in support of the DREAM Act, a federal education bill that would help eligible undocumented students become lawful residents.

Acknowledging the urgency of this matter, and Congress’ inability to legislate, this week the Regents moved to recommend that the State pass a law that would extend financial aid to New York students without legal status.

Quickly after the announcement, conservative voices blasted the Regents’ decision, citing concerns over the state of our economy.

What the critics fail to say or see is that impeding undocumented students’ pursuit of higher education is both phony and economically damaging.

New York invests money in educating the children of our undocumented workers. But by the time they are ready to go to college and become higher earners and in turn contributors, they are denied access to the loans and scholarships that help most low-income students in this country cover the cost of higher education. Refusing to lag behind their more fortunate counterparts, many of these undocumented students go on to work long hours in off-the-book jobs in order to cover tuition costs. Then at the end of these arduous journeys, these very same students encounter a job market that cannot employ their skills by hiring them because, once again, a residence status most of them did not choose blocks the way forward.

It is encouraging to see state authorities finally trying to address this cruel reality. The State legislature goes back in session in January. The passing of a state DREAM bill should be a priority. Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and Senator Bill Perkins have already drafted a bill that could be a good starting point for a discussion.

We expect the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to heed the Regents’ call, seize this opportunity and start the new year by giving all students the opportunity to complete an education.