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New York passes DREAM Act, becomes 4th-largest state with financial aid for undocumented immigrants

California and New Jersey have also enacted similar legislation.

A rally in support of the DREAM Act outside of Andrew Cuomo's office in New York, New York on January 8, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
A rally in support of the DREAM Act outside of Andrew Cuomo's office in New York, New York on January 8, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

New York became the fourth-largest state to pass the DREAM Act on Wednesday.

The bill, which will provide college financial aid for undocumented immigrants, was passed by both chambers of the state’s legislature and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D), who became the first DREAMer to be elected to New York’s state legislature in November, spoke about how she struggled to earn a quality education “because resources for me were limited by a lack of a piece of paper.”

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“We’re as American as empanadas, samosas, and apple pie,” said Cruz. “And we want to contribute and fight for our country.”

The DREAM Act has been a priority for progressives in the state since President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. DACA gave temporary work authorization and deportation relief to approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The bill came within two votes of passing the New York Senate in 2014, but a group of Democratic state senators that caucused with Republicans, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), stymied efforts to enact it.

Under increasing scrutiny — especially after the rise of President Donald Trump — the IDC officially dissolved last year. Six of the group’s eight former members were later unseated in the 2018 midterm elections.

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Undocumented immigrants in New York have been eligible for in-state tuition since 2001, but the DREAM Act will expand protections to include financial aid to students “who attended high school for at least two years in New York and graduated or obtained an equivalency diploma here.”

Since 2001, 18 other states have passed various bills giving undocumented students in-state tuition, though eligibility and access to financial aid differs. New Jersey became the most recent state to join the list last year, allowing undocumented students to apply for financial aid.

New York and California are also looking to expand insurance eligibility for undocumented immigrants under Trump’s administration, which has targeted all forms of immigration.

There have been numerous efforts to enact a federal DREAM Act — which would provide a path to legal citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — since the bill was first introduced in Congress in 2001.

Obama created the DACA program in 2012 after a DREAM Act bill had passed the House and failed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Trump, who ended the DACA program in 2017, has attempted to use DREAMers as a bargaining chip in the ongoing government shutdown over his long-desired border wall.

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After officially gaining control of the state Senate and expanding their majority in the state assembly during November’s elections, New York Democrats have also passed progressive priorities like protections for abortion rights and voting reforms this month.

This has been updated with video of Cruz’s speech.