Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, wants to allow illegal immigrants to access the state's college Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
The Democratic Conference wants to put $25 million in taxpayer funds toward helping immigrants go to college in New York. Speaker Silver wants the undocumented students to receive through the NYS Dream Act.
The Assembly Higher Education Committee passed the bill last month. Senate Republicans have opposed allowing immigrants to use public dollars for tuition help but have indicated they might support arranging private scholarships.
According to Speaker Silver's office, his current proposal would allow undocumented students, who went to high school in New York, to enter the same pool of TAP applicants are students who are lawfully in the United States. The addition of the $25 million to the TAP fund is intended to offset the increase in applicants.
The proposal has been applauded by many activists working with the poor, including local attorney Mike Taheri of St. Luke's Mission of Mercy.
"In virtually every case, the people who they are talking about are eligible for these scholarships -- they've been here eight (to) ten years," Taheri said. "They have gone to school. They've achieved a high-school diploma. They've been on the varsity basketball team. They've been in the choir. Virtually, they are citizens. "
Assemblyman Michael Kearns, D-South Buffalo, says the state is already running a billion-dollar deficit, which could result in major funding cuts to non-profits that care for people with disabilities.
"At this point in time, this isn't something we can afford. It's something I'm not going to support," Kearns said. "And what are you saying to the law abiding citizens who work hard, send their kids to school, and maybe they're working a part-time job, and maybe they can't afford to go to college?"
Taheri said the proposal will save New Yorkers money in the long run.
"By funding their college, and allowing them to go to college, not only do they become productive members of the community, they become taxpayers. So they ease the tax burden," Taheri said. "The option is to keep this group of people uneducated, and continued to oppress them, when that's really not the purpose, or the founding fathers' intention of this country. We have to look back and say, we a nation of inclusion. We welcome the immigrants."
Kearns said the proposal is simply unfair.
"I know it's a very difficult issue. And the kids weren't put into that place. But somewhere, there are people followed the process, followed the law, and they did the right thing. And I think we're rewarding bad behavior by funding this program," Kearns said.
We called every single Assembly Member from Erie and Niagara Counties to see where they stood on Speaker Silver's proposal
Only one of them, Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), said she'd consider supporting it. Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo said he was unsure and wanted to first review the bill. Every other local member said they were against it, with the exception of Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who did not call us back.