State legislature approves DREAM Act named for late Queens State Senator Jose Peralta

Photo by Mark Hallum

The Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, named for one of its most ardent champions, passed the Assembly after years of advocacy on Wednesday and will finally grant immigrants access to financial aid to attend SUNY and CUNY institutions.

Although it has been fielded in the legislature time and again since its introduction by the late state Sen. Jose Peralta in 2013, the Republican majority in the state Senate is where the bill usually got hung up. However, since the November general election saw Democrats succeed in reclaiming a majority, the DREAM Act may now have a clear path to being signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Today I met with Evelyn Peralta and the family of the late Senator Jose Peralta, champion of the Dream Act,” Cuomo said on Jan. 23. “As a key part of our Justice Agenda, we look forward to finally making it law for all New Yorkers this year, for Senator Peralta and the Dreamers.”

If signed into law, the DREAM Act would eliminate obstacles facing undocumented students who need access to general awards, performance-based awards and state Tuition Assistance Program. Students would only need to be eligible for in-state tuition and have attended a high school in the state for over two years or passed the high school equivalency exam in New York.

The number of undocumented students who would be eligible varies between 6,000- and 8,000, according to Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa.

The DREAM Act’s sponsor, De La Rosa argued the merits of the bill with Assemblyman Doug Smith, a Republican from Long Island, in the Assembly chamber on Wednesday claiming that the Higher Education Services Corporation would enforce the guidelines.

Former mayoral candidate and Republican Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis asked why an employer identification number would not be required to access the financial aid, but De La Rosa said a W2 and pay stub would take the place of this to prove income level.

“I’ll be voting no today, I urge all my colleagues to vote no,” Malliotakis said, claiming the DREAM Act puts the needs of those who voted officials into office over people not eligible to vote because of their documented status.

Assemblyman Phil Ramos called the use of “illegal” and “unlawful” to describe children who he said have no part in decisions to cross borders are “boogeyman tactics.”

“I don’t know about you, but I was elected to represent every human being in my district,” Ramos told Malliotakis. “These are people who want to go to college. How many gang members want to go to college?”

Assemblyman Ron Kim, co-chair of the Asian American Pacific Task Force, is one of dozens who have co-sponsored the bill and represents a district that covers northeast Queens heavy in Asian American immigrants.

“This is not a compassionate plea, this is an economic argument,” Kim said.

Assemblyman Victor Pichardo, a Democrat from the Bronx, said Peralta should be remembered for his contribution to the bill and positive impact it will have for New Yorkers across the state and prevent them from being dependent on social services, making it a worthy investment regardless of legal status.

“The Assembly Majority believes in breaking down barriers, not creating them,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “We know higher education is the key to ending the cycle of poverty and enabling families to thrive. We have repeatedly passed the DREAM Act because we know it is economically misguided and morally unjust to deprive students educated in our very own public schools of the tools they need to be successful.”

The $27 million would only account for 2 percent of the income taxes levied from immigrants in New York

The Senate also passed the bill 40-20 earlier on Wednesday.

“New York’s commitment to passing the Jose Peralta DREAM Act was realized today and we stand united now more than ever in our efforts to protect and support Dreamers,” Assemblywoman Nily Rozic said. “New York continues making great strides in higher education and it is critical that our investments consider the needs of all students seeking new opportunities and working for a bright future.”

The DREAM Act is expected cost the state $27 million while Cuomo has recently introduced a $175 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

Peralta was career lawmaker from Elmhurst who died suddenly on Nov. 21 at the age of 47 after an illness.

He represented the Hispanic districts of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Corona for 16 years in the Senate and Assembly; he had moved to Queens at the age of 8, the son of Dominican immigrants and attended Queens College.

Peralta fell out of favor with constituents when he joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a controversial group of lawmakers who broke away from mainline Democrats. Although they disbanded in April 2018, the majority of former IDC members were unseated in the September primaries.

State Senator Jessica Ramos, recently sworn in this month, overtook Peralta in the primary effectively ending his tenure in the Senate.