Student advocates urge Senate to pass Dream Act

WNY Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz speaks in front of the Campbell Student Union bookstore.

Photo by Autumn Evans/The Record

WNY Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz speaks in front of the Campbell Student Union bookstore.

Students, elected officials and grassroots advocates gathered at SUNY Buffalo State on Friday to urge the Senate to pass the New York State Dream Act.

The Dream Act, which was passed by the Assembly last week, would grant undocumented citizens access to the Tuition Assistance Program.

The event began at noon outside the Campbell Student Union bookstore.

Speakers and supporters gathered behind a podium in the lobby.

Behind them, the ATM machine was covered in a sign that read, “STOP! No financial aid ahead! Proceed with caution!”

“We are here today to send a clear message to Albany: Pass the New York State Dream Act,” said Patty Ceravole, project coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group at Buffalo State and event organizer. “The time is now for the Senate to act!”

Ceravole said that only 5 percent of undocumented youth who graduate high school can afford college consider financial aid “crucial” to their opportunity for education.

Speakers at the event said that extending TAP to include undocumented youth could be economically beneficial, given that college graduates tend to make more money and have greater chances of employment than individuals who do not attend.

They also said that covering undocumented youth would take up only two percent of the current TAP budget.

“Let’s do … what’s right for the state, not what’s right for political parties,” said Richard Stepniak, a second-generation American and Buffalo State United University Professions Chapter President.

During the event, student activists stood behind the speakers, holding signs in support of the Dream Act.

One student was Sasha Nivar, a sociology senior and NYPIRG intern from the Bronx.

Nivar is a second-generation American whose family emigrated from the Dominican Republic. Now, she has cousins entering the country who want to pursue a higher education, but can’t afford it.

“Imagine if you had no financial aid and every cent had to come directly out of your pocket,” Nivar said. “Would you still be in school if that were the case? Wouldn’t you want someone to see you struggling and lift you up?”

New York State has allowed undocumented citizens access to in-state tuition since 2002.

“We’re a trend-setting state…but we’re very wishy-washy about it,” Adonis Kernen said, executive vice president of the United Student Government and a speaker at the event. Kernen supports the Dream Act, and believes that being American goes beyond legal status.

“These are our friends; brothers; sisters,” Kernen said. “Their children are being acculturated and socialized like Americans.”

The Dream Act has been passed by the Assembly before, but the Senate has never voted on it. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been silent on the issue in the past, publicly supported it this year. Ceravole is hopeful that this will be the year it passes.

“It’s one of the best chances we’ve had,” she said.

In order for the Dream Act to pass, the Senate will have to vote on it and add it to their budget.

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