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Immigrants push for more access to higher education

Correction: We originally wrote that Yelky Ramos came to Queens as a teenager - in fact, she came to the Bronx. The Innovation Trail regrets the error.

Hundreds of people gathered for a rally outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, pushing for legislation to help undocumented immigrants go to college.

New York’s DREAM Act would give young people who were brought into the country illegally by their families access to the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

Yelky Ramos, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant, helped to lead the rally.

When Ramos came from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx at a teenager, she didn’t speak any English, but she still managed to graduate as the valedictorian at her high school. She’s now a college senior with plans to attend graduate school and become a lawyer.

Ramos says one of the biggest misconceptions about undocumented immigrants is that they don’t pay taxes, and that they take advantage of social welfare programs.

“Honestly what you’re creating with the DREAM Act is a group of individuals that are educated, that are going for jobs, that are going to enter the working class ... It’s not welfare,” she says.

Several lawmakers came out to support the legislation, including Senator Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), who made an argument that the DREAM Act makes good economic sense.

“Students with college degrees make a state more attractive to business. [They] earn more and pay more taxes,” he says.

Perkins read portions of a recent New York Times editorial aloud to the crowd, which criticized Governor Cuomo for not taking a stronger stance on the issue.

Advocates pointed to a new report, from the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute, which found that extending TAP benefits to undocumented immigrants would cost roughly $17 million, which translates to just two percent of TAP’s overall expenditures.

SUNY Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher has also been supportive of the legislation. She said this in a written statement:

“All New Yorkers, regardless of legal status, should be eligible to receive State financial aid benefits and in-state tuition rates as they pursue a college education. The concept of the DREAM Act is a noble one, and we will work with elected officials and our colleagues in higher education to ensure that that it is upheld in New York State.”


WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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