After they endorsed anti-cheating measures and the state’s bid for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the Board of Regents turned yesterday to a different policy issue: the plight of students whose families came to the country illegally.

As part of their 2012 legislative agenda, the Regents voted to support the federal Development, Relief, and Education Act for Minors. The DREAM Act, which failed in the U.S. Senate last year, would clear a path toward citizenship for high school graduates whose families are in the country illegally. The act would benefit nearly 350,000 students statewide, many in New York City, by making them able to work legally and get financial aid for college.

Today, Board of Regents Chancellor and State Education Commissioner John King sent a letter to New York’s congressional delegation, urging them to back the DREAM Act when it comes before them during the next legislative session.

The Regents’ endorsement didn’t come without question. Roger Tilles, a Regent who in the past cast one of just three “no” votes against letting test scores count more in teacher evaluations, initially questioned the wisdom of weighing in on the issue. He said the political consequences of taking a stand on immigration could alienate groups that prioritize other education policies. He did not say what those groups could be.

Tisch responded to Tilles with a personal appeal. She said that the daughter of a friend, a worker at the restaurant where Tisch and her mother lunch each week, lost her college scholarship after the school found out that she was not in the country legally. Had the DREAM Act been in place, Tisch said, the young woman would have been able to attend college without financial concern.

Ultimately, Tilles joined Tisch and other Regents in endorsing the law. Among the other pieces of legislation that the Regents considered endorsing were Congress’s effort to renew the federal education law and a state law that would let education officials take control of struggling school districts.

BOARD OF REGENTS URGES PASSAGE OF DREAM ACT

Act Would Help End the Cycle of Poverty for Hundreds of Thousands of Students

The Board of Regents today gave approval to endorse passage of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.  Following the approval, Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr. sent a letter to New York State’s congressional delegation, urging the delegation’s support for the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented alien minors.

“Right now, no matter how long they’ve lived here or how young they were when their parents brought them here, these students are far too often forced into the shadows of poverty and desperate existence,” King said.  “The Dream Act opens up a pathway out of the shadows into citizenship and opportunity.  New York was built in no small part by the energy and vitality of immigrants. Helping these young New Yorkers achieve legal status doesn’t just help them – it helps build our society, our economy and the future of our state.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of students in New York who have been condemned to a life of poverty simply because they were brought to the United States as children,” Tisch said.  “Their immigration status is determined solely by the status of their parents, and they’re being denied opportunities that the rest of America takes for granted.  It makes no sense.  It’s an on-going tragedy that not only hurts these students, it hurts our society.  The Dream Act will give them the opportunity to go to college, hold jobs and be fully integrated into the fabric of American life as citizens and taxpayers.”

It’s estimated that approximately 345,000 K-12 public school students in New York do not have legal status.  As a result, they cannot obtain financial assistance for college and are not able to find regular employment, or decent housing.

“With their passage of a resolution supporting the DREAM Act, the New York State Board of Regents does New York proud!” said Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The Board of Regents sent an important message:  that the future of our country depends on helping all our children reach their potential, regardless of immigration status.  While other states have gone to great lengths of late to score political points at immigrant children’s expense, the New York State’s regents promote a positive and inclusive vision that should be echoed across the country. We applaud the Board on passing this resolution today and thank Chancellor Tisch and Commission King for their passionate leadership.”

“On behalf of our young immigrant communities across the state, I thank the Commissioner and Board of Regents,” said Leticia Alanis, Executive Director of La Union. “Their action today elicits great hope in the hearts of so many young people aspiring to access higher education to serve society without the barriers that their immigration status imposes on them. This call to Congress will benefit all of us by allowing the tremendous potential of hundreds of thousands of young people to thrive and contribute to our nation and ensure our prosperity.”

The DREAM Act would apply only to immigrant alien students who came to the U.S. at age 15 or younger at least five years before the date of the bill’s enactment and who have maintained good moral character since entering the U.S. Students would receive conditional permanent resident status when they graduated from a U.S. high school, or earned the GED in the U.S., and went on to attend a U.S. college or serve in the U.S. military. Students would not qualify for this relief if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were inadmissible or removable on certain other grounds.

The DREAM Act would enact two major changes in current law:

·        It would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military; and

·        It would eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

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