BUFFALO, NY - As the national debate over immigration remains hot, here in New York, lawmakers are battling over whether to give college-bound students, who are children of illegal immigrants, help with tuition.
The push would dramatically change the education immigration laws in the state.
Specifically, the bill would allow students who are children of illegal immigrants to get state aid for college. Right now, state law prohibits these young people from receiving such help.
Statewide, hundreds of thousands of children of illegal immigrants are denied the opportunity to go to college because they can't get financial aid.
"I think that everybody should be given the opportunity to rise above poverty and this allows that to happen," said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, (D) 141st District.
Children of illegal immigrants could get the assistance from a fund that government appointees would fund raise for. It would be pumped with private dollars. Taxpayers could also send their money there. And students would also be able to apply for a state TAP grant, that's funded by taxpayers and is worth up to $5,000. Erie County legislator Lynne Dixon has introduced a resolution urging state lawmakers to oppose the bill.
"There are a lot of hardworking citizens who are having hard enough times finding ways to put their own children through school, finding it hard enough to get any financial aid," she said.
For students who are non-residents to get aid, they would need to be a high school graduate or have gotten a diploma through another route. They have to apply to a state college. And they also have to file an affidavit with the institution showing that they're trying to be a legal citizen.
"So much of what we are doing at the state level right now, I think in some respects puts the cart before the horse, they have to resolve this issue at the federal level right now," said Dixon.
Peoples-Stokes says that 2,500 people could probably benefit from this bill in Western New York. The bill is in committee in the Assembly and the same bill has been introduced in the Senate.
"For anyone to think that we should not want all Americans including potential Americans to be educated, then I wonder what society we're really living in," Peoples-Stokes said.