Over the past 10 years, there has been endless posturing in Washington about our broken immigration system. Unfortunately, these debates have achieved nothing to produce critically needed comprehensive immigration reform.
It is shameful that Congress can't even come together to do the bare minimum and pass the DREAM Act, which opens the door to permanent residency through military service and higher education for thousands of immigrant young people whose parents brought them to this country as children.
They deserve better — the chance to work hard, get a good education, help grow our economy and keep our country safe. Little wonder Republicans such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell have advocated for this legislation, calling it critical to our national security.
The lack of leadership in Washington has reverberated across the country — leaving state governments on their own to answer the fundamental question of how we view and treat immigrants in our society. States like Arizona and Alabama have stepped into this leadership void by passing abhorrent laws that undermine basic civil rights.
Since Congress refuses to act, New York can show the nation a different way. Where others have chosen intolerance, the Empire State can honor its legacy of being a beacon of hope and opportunity for generations of immigrants by passing the New York State DREAM Act introduced by Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and state Sen. Bill Perkins as well as the DREAM Fund introduced by Assemblyman Francisco Moya.
Together, these bills would support the extension of the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and other scholarships to all students, regardless of immigration status; create a commission to raise private funds for all children of immigrants (both documented and undocumented), and allow undocumented students and their families to open up college savings accounts.
Investing in the dreams of our immigrant youth is not only the moral thing to do. It is a social, academic and economic imperative. The students who will benefit from the DREAM legislation are some of New York's best and brightest.
They are the friends of our children who have been raised and educated in our schools, churches and neighborhoods. They root for the Yankees, fret about the Mets and know the best pizzerias in town.
Having overcome great obstacles to achieve educational success, these young people are often also overachievers who have higher-than-average levels of community and civic activity.
A growing chorus of educators across our state has affirmed the value of ensuring that these young scholars have fair and equal access to higher education. They recognize what the evidence clearly suggests: If we give these kids a chance, they will enhance our economic productivity and ensure that New York can continue to position itself as one of the largest and most dynamic economies in the world.
Consider the following: According to research conducted by CEOs for Cities, if New York City were to increase the population of its residents with a four-year college degree by just 1 percentage point, it would bring $14.3 billion dollars in additional revenue to the city's economy.
For generations upon generations, New York has been able to grow by tapping into the spirit of its immigrant community. In the coming year, let's send that message loud and clear to the rest of the nation by passing the New York State DREAM bills.