As New Yorkers celebrated their Irish heritage during the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade, senators in Albany ignored their immigrant roots and defeated a bill to give tuition assistance to undocumented college students.
How do you tell a young person from Queens whose parents brought them to the country illegally that they still can’t quality for state aid to pursue higher education? The so-called Dream Act died on the Senate floor even though the vote was 30-29 and kept those students in a state of suspended bondage.
Thousands of high-achieving students hoping to go to college were denied equal access to higher education by the vagaries of the Senate, where a majority of 32 votes are required to pass a bill. What constitutes a majority in those hallowed halls is a matter of debate these days with shifting loyalties shuffling control of the Senate between the two parties.
In the latest round, Sen. Tony Avella broke with the mainstream Democrats and joined the Independent Democratic Conference, which has made a power-sharing deal with the Republicans to lead the upper house.
In a surprise move, Sen. Jeff Klein, the IDC leader from the Bronx, brought the bill to the floor when he had no guarantee it would pass. Bills rarely fail in the Senate.
All five conference members voted for the bill, but Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder — he may think he represents the white bread and mayonnaise set — voted against it along with all 28 Republicans and one Democrat. Two GOP senators did not show for the vote and two seats are vacant.
In face of this uncertain head count, Klein came under fire for risking the defeat of the bill to fend off criticism that the IDC was helping to keep the controversial measure from the floor.
Political maneuvering aside, the failed vote ends at least temporarily the push by immigration advocates to win $25 million in tuition assistance and as much as $5,000 a year in aid for students at four-year colleges. Gov. Andrew Cuomo could save the measure by setting aside the funds in the new budget.
Senators from Queens, the country’s most ethnically diverse county, spoke eloquently in favor of the bill before it perished. But other legislators who chose to forget the enormous contributions made to New York through the generations by Italian, Irish, Jewish and Asian immigrants, among others, voted no.
The Democratic-controlled state Assembly passed the bill. It’s time for Albany to stand up and respect the state’s foreign-born residents.