"Supporters of a bill that would give New York students in the U.S. illegally access to state tuition assistance weren't giving it much of a chance in this election year, planning instead for a push in 2015.
But unforeseen support from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and more Democratic lawmakers has breathed new life into the state's proposed "Dream Act" and given hope to students who would otherwise be shut out of state financial aid.
"It's very frustrating to try and further your education and have so many obstacles in your path," said Marcy Suarez, a high school senior from Brentwood who was 7 when she crossed the Mexican desert to enter the United States.
Unlike the federal Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for people that arrived in the country before the age of 16, the New York state Dream Act opens up state financial aid to students in the country illegally.
The proposal includes a budget appropriation of $25 million to open up Tuition Assistance Program money for such students at both public and private colleges, paying up to $5,000 a year for undergraduates at four-year institutions. Exactly how many would be eligible for the need-based assistance is unclear, but according to a report issued by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, 8,300 such students in the CUNY and SUNY systems would qualify.
"Evidence of the economic benefits of the Dream Act are indisputable," Marti Adams, a spokesman for de Blasio, said last week. "We don't need to think this further. The Legislature needs to give these students the support they need to succeed."
Prospects for the immigrant financial aid bill remain uncertain in the Senate, where the new backing from four members of the Independent Democratic Conference leaves it still five votes short. Four other Senate Democrats have yet to publicly weight in on the bill, which passed easily in the Democrat-controlled Assembly last year.
Sen. Bill Perkins, one of those four Democrats, was the Senate sponsor of the Dream Act in 2011. Perkins didn't return calls seeking comment on his stance on the since-amended version.
Advocates for the Dream Act say they hope to convince Republican Sens. Martin Golden, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Lanza to back the legislation. Golden said he doesn't support the Dream Act, but would back a "Dream Fund" to provide scholarships through private sources. Zeldin and Lanza didn't return calls seeking comment..." - Click here for NBC website to read more
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