State Dream Laws and Obama Dream Act Portend a shift in U.S. Immigration Policy
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State Dream Laws and Obama Dream Act Portend a shift in U.S. Immigration Policy

July 7, 2012, 3:10 am
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Obama’s unilateral move to establish basic and necessary standards for young people living in the United States has been enthusiastically greeted by millions of children and adults affected by the new directive. The “Dream Act” as it is unofficially called, is a fitting name for the ubiquitous dreamers, who have been living in twilight, neither an American nor a foreigner. Its goal is to help motivated youths who were brought here as children and are American in all but the documentation.

As the Dream Act has been languishing in Congress for more than a decade. Pending Congress’ passage of the law, the Obama administration's solution is a temporary patch though the use of executive orders. His most recent directive permits these youth’s to live and work in the U.S., without fear of deportation, but does nothing to assist them in their education. In fact, most states do nothing to make an undocumented students life more comfortable and affordable. 

Some states, however, found a way to help out these students and, although the states cannot fix the immigration laws, they have passed their own versions of the Dream Act; to make college more affordable to undocumented students.

In 2001 Texas became the first state to pass its version of the “Dream Act,” an in-state resident tuition program that throws a lifeline to undocumented immigrant students.

To qualify, the states that have such laws normally require the students to have:

1.    attended a school in the state for a certain number of years;
2.    graduated from high school in the state; and
3.    signed an affidavit stating that they have either applied to legalize their status or will do so as soon as eligible.

These laws generally provide that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who meet these requirements but no longer live in the state are able to qualify for the same tuition rate

Texas has been followed by twelve other states, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, and Washington. In addition, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education voted unanimously to grant access to in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities to certain students, despite their immigration status.

Only three states — Texas, New Mexico and California — allow the student to receive government tuition aid.

New York may soon become the fourth. It has long been a shining light for immigrants and a leader in higher education. One bill pending in the New York Legislature would make undocumented students qualified for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program; another would provide aid through a fund with private donations.

A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute established that the Dream Act would add approximately $17 million, or barely 2 percent, to the cost of the Tuition Assistance Program in New York. The benefit outweighs the cost, as students that graduate college, increase a state’s image making the state more attractive to businesses.

Providing the resources to help undocumented students in their quest for higher education is not only the right thing to do, but also ultimately the proper fiscal response.



Author: Moises Apsan
Attorney with over 35 years of experience. Past president Federal Bar Association NJ Chapter (1997-2002). Offices in New York, NY, Newark, NJ. Tel: 888-460-1800 and
Apsan Law Offices
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