Legislative meeting in Albany

Issues pertaining to aliens or undocumented individuals have always been
controversial, drawing a lot of contention from different quarters. This
is especially with regard to their abilities to receive or enjoy some of
the amenities that individuals who are legally recognized as citizens
enjoy. Scholars and researchers estimate that there exists between 7 and
20 million undocumented (and illegal) aliens throughout the United
States. In fact, research shows that the United States receives more
than half a million illegal and undocumented aliens every year. Of
course, there are varied programs that have been proposed pertaining to
the statistics. It goes without saying that a large number  or
percentage of undocumented aliens are the youth falling between the ages
of 15 and 30 years. Questions arise as to whether it should be possible
for them to access financial aid. Numerous groups have been addressing
this aspect in varied parts of the country with varied legislations
being designed to address issues pertaining to the undocumented aliens.
I attended a legislative or advocacy meeting in Albany for the New York
State Social Work Education Association. The legislative action day was
aimed at meeting the local legislator so as to discuss the recently
introduced and controversial DREAM ACT, especially with regard to the
capacity of undocumented alien youths to access state-back financial
aid. The DREAM Act is an acronym that stands for Development, Relief,
and Education for Alien Minors, an American legislation that was
initially introduced in 2001 (Fix, 2009). While this Act has been under
discussion since 2001, it has never been made into law. A large number
of organizations have been pushing for its enactment for a long time
citing its numerous advantages for the states.
This meeting was attended by officials of the New York State Social Work
Education Association, as well as a number of its members. In addition,
some officials of organizations that favor the enactment of the Dreams
Act were present. These groups include Essential Worker Immigration
Coalition (EWIC), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA),
International Franchise Association (IFA), National Association of
Manufacturers (NAM) and New American Opportunity Campaign (NAOC). While
I do not subscribe to either of the associations or organizations
mentioned, I attended the meeting as a special guest and researcher.
Throughout the entire meeting, the groups were trying to garner support
from the local legislator on the legalization of the Dream Act. Needless
to say, there were arguments and counterarguments raised on the issue,
all in an effort to come up with the appropriate course of action. On
the same note, the implications of legislations made with regard to
undocumented aliens were raised. This is especially the 2011 HB-56 law
made in Alabama that gave police officers the powers to question an
individual about his or her immigration status, as well as arrest them
(Pearson, 2011). This legislation also required that school officials
verify and record new students’ immigration statuses, as well as that
of their parents. On the same note, it incorporated provisions that were
designed to net undocumented aliens, one of which is the requirement
that individuals produce papers so as to obtain public water service
(Pearson, 2011). As much as varied parts of the legislation are still
not effected, some key parts have already been implemented, something
that has resulted in an exodus of immigrants from Alabama thereby
affecting the availability of workers (Pearson, 2011).
Nevertheless, the key agenda of the meeting revolved around allowing
undocumented alien youth the opportunity or chance to apply for
state-back financial aid. The Dream Act has been sponsored by Sheldon
Silver, the powerful Assembly Speaker and gained support from
Republicans and Democrats alike. Advocates of the bill noted that, it
would offer assistance to poor immigrant families to afford college fees
via the Tuition Assistance Plan alongside other academic assistance
programs (Perez, 2009). In addition, they noted that the bill would
establish a commission that would raise money for scholarships.
Advocates also noted that undocumented aliens needed financial
assistance just like many struggling families so as to achieve their
academic or educational goals (Associated Press, 2013). It is worth
noting that this government or state-backed financial aid to
undocumented alien youths in academic institutions comes as an
investment in the youth who are essentially future of the state.
New York, through this legislation, would be joining ten other states
that have enacted the Dream Act in an effort to offer state-baked
financial aid. Illegal or undocumented aliens have had lower in-state
resident tuition offered to them in public colleges (Associated Press,
2013). It is worth noting that the Republican opposition Congress has
stalled a federal proposal of Dream Act that would have offered
college-bound undocumented aliens some financial aid, as well as a route
to citizenship for youths (Associated Press, 2013).
The advocates also quoted the California Dream Act, which was passed by
the state’s legislature allowing undocumented students to receive some
financial aid so as to attend public universities in the state. The
first act of the bill signed in July 2011 allows undocumented youths to
receive scholarships and private grants (Kranzler, 2013). The second act
of the bill signed in October 2011 allowed undocumented youths admitted
in public California universities access Cal-Grants, which was
essentially a financial aid program that served a number of universities
in the state (Kranzler, 2013).
The benefits of such programs stretch into the future. The student so
educated will undoubtedly contribute immensely to the workforce of the
U.S in the future (Newton, 2008). Moreover, scholars note that the
educated undocumented aliens would be likely to have high incomes, which
would not only be used in the country thereby supporting businesses in
the same, but also contribute to the tax purse (Newton, 2008).
However, there are fears that the Dream Act would encourage more illegal
immigration as it seems to come as a reward to the undocumented alien
youths. However, this may not be the case as such bills incorporate
clear cut-off dates, in which case they do not come with any incentives
for increased illegal immigration (Carrasco & San Francisco State
University, 2006). For example, students are required to have entered
the country before 15 years of age and lived in the country for not less
than 5 years prior to the enactment (Fix, 2009). This means that, the
bill does not offer any incentives for other individuals from other
countries to enter the country illegally so that they can benefit from
the financial aid as the standards and requirements are considerably
restrictive (Carrasco & San Francisco State University, 2006). In fact,
economic conditions come with far more effects on illegal immigration
compared to specific legislations.
The agenda of this meeting feel in the broader realm of discussions
pertaining to Immigration Law reforms, which have dominated politics in
the current times and divided the public right in the middle. While
there may be no agreement on whether the reforms are good for the
country or not, it is evident that they have positive impacts on the
economy both today and in the future (Fix, 2009).
Pearson, E (2011). Undocumented immigrants descend on Alabama to protest
controversial immigration law. New York Daily News retrieved from
Kranzler, J (2013). DREAM Act to provide aid for illegal immigrant
students. The Aragon Outlook, retrieved from HYPERLINK
Associated Press, (2013). College-bound illegal immigrants could get
state financial aid under New York proposal. Retrieved from HYPERLINK
Carrasco, S., & San Francisco State University. (2006). The D.R.E.A.M.
Act, is it just a dream?: Latino challenges in public policy.
Pérez, W. (2009). We are Americans: Undocumented students pursuing the
American dream. Sterling, Va: Stylus.
Fix, M. (2009). Immigrants and welfare: The impact of welfare reform on
America`s newcomers. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Newton, L. (2008). Illegal, alien, or immigrant: The politics of
immigration reform. New York: New York University Press.