Policy Paper on the New York Dream Act

New York is a city that was built by immigrants. As of today it is the home of about 3 million people with a foreign nationality.  An estimated 645,000 people are undocumented and have no legal status. In 2006, New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged the illegal immigrants’ contribution to New York City’s economy when he said: “Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders or overstaying their visas, and our businesses broke the law by employing them, our city’s economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported.”

When illegal immigrants have children, they are born into an undocumented life. Their parents often work in low income jobs that make it hard for the family to save money for the children’s higher education. After graduating from high school, many undocumented youth who have the desire and the intellectual abilities to go to college are unable to because they can’t afford the tuition fees. 

The New York Dream Act could change the lives of many of these undocumented youth and enable the ones who meet instate tuition requirements to access state financial aid and scholarships for higher education.

According to Immigration Policy Center numbers, an estimated 65,000 undocumented youth who went to public schools are ineligeble for financial aid under federal and state law. The financial hurdles lead to the fact that only 5-10 percent of them go to college.

To gain access to college funds and thus benefit from the bill, an undocumented youth must have attended a New York state high school for at least two years and graduated, or obtained a GED in New York. Furthermore he or she must enroll in a university or college in New York and meet the Higher Education Services Corporation’s requirements for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) (the student has to take 12 or more credits per semester as a fulltime student, declare a major by the second year in a two year program, maintain a C average, pay at least $200 per year out of a higher education fund and meet income eligibility requirements).

After long discussions on several sides of the political spectrum, the bill failed to pass by two votes in the New York State senate on March 17, 2013.

One of the most popular arguments against the bill is the claim that once the bill passes, the act could be a signal that the US supports illegal immigrants and thus encourage illegal immigration. Access to college and university funds and a college education in the US would fulfill immigrant’s parents’ faraway objective to enable a college education for their kids and lead to a greater illegal immigration. The argument adds that the act would force the state government and taxpayers to take financial responsibility for the children of illegal immigrants. Conservative sources expect negative fiscal consequences for the U.S. taxpayers who would have to fund an act that only illegal immigrants would profit from. With the act in effect, more students would gain access to a college education and the result would be a competition between illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens for the available spots in colleges and the available funds for higher education.

Supporters of the act point out that the bill would not be financed solely by taxpaying U.S. citizens. Immigrants pay income taxes, direct and indirect property taxes (through their landlord) and sales taxes.

Granting the children of undocumented immigrants more access to financial aid for higher education could actually benefit U.S. taxpayers. The Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) estimates that an individual who earns an associate’s degree will pay more than $35,000 ($60,000 with a bachelor’s degree) in additional State taxes over his working lifetime compared to an individual who has only a high school diploma. This number exceeds the $8,000 ($20,000 with a bachelor’s degree) maximum TAP award that a student could receive for a traditional two-year degree. Supporters of the bill also point at the lower crime rates among higher earning individuals. Thus an improved accessibility to higher income jobs (which mostly require a college degree) could also lower New York’s crime rates.

An indirect argument for the bill comes from economists who compared the prospects of future growth rates of the U.S. economy to the projected growth rates of Europe’s economy. The aging society in Europe is and will be a growing burden for taxpayers who pay for the social security system. The strong influx of legal and illegal immigrants, who show higher fertility rates than citizens, are a benefit for the U.S. economy in regards to future demographic development. Young people who have access to higher income jobs will end up contributing more in taxes. Barring the illegal immigrants from the ability to attain a college education would simply be a loss of possible tax revenue.


By Fabian Winter