Dream Act supporters vow to fight on

Mar 18, 2014

Supporters of Dream Act legislation say they were “set up,” when a hastily arranged vote on the bill in the New York State Senate chamber late Monday led to the measure’s failure by just one vote.

The focus is now shifting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Backers say they will try to get the governor to put the measure into the state budget.

Supporters of the measure to give state aid for college tuition to children of undocumented immigrants say they are disappointed and saddened that the measure lost in the Senate by just one vote.  

But some lawmakers claim there was more going on. They say the last-minute vote was deliberately timed to lead to the Dream Act’s failure. Advocates were not notified in advance. Sen. Jose Peralta, a prime sponsor, says two key Republican senators who might have voted for the bill were mysteriously absent.

“You can only call it one name,” Peralta said. “It was a set up.”

Leaders of the Independent Democratic Conference, who lead the Senate with Republicans, say they kept their promise to bring the Dream Act to the floor this year, and blame Democrats for the bill’s failure. IDC Leader Jeff Klein says two Democratic senators voted against the measure.

“I’m disappointed,” Klein said. “But at the same time, it’s very difficult to not have a united Democratic conference, all Democrats, IDC and regular Democrats, on such an important issue, and then expect Republicans  to support that piece of legislation.”

One of those Democrats, Sen.Ted O’Brien, caucuses with the mainstream Democrats, who hold minority party status. The other, Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, meets with the Republicans.

Supporters say they will next turn to Cuomo, and ask him to put the Dream Act into the state budget. Peralta says the measure to legalize gay marriage initially failed in the state Senate back in 2009, until Cuomo championed that measure in 2011, when it was approved.

“We have an opportunity here,” said Peralta who said if the governor has the “capital will” to do it, Cuomo can put it in the state spending plan, due at the end of March.

David Chung, an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the U.S. since he was three, attends Hunter College and already has a job as a youth organizer. He says others need the same opportunities.

“I got an education,” Chung said. “And I want other dreamers in the future to have that chance also, to be able to achieve their dreams.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in Albany for the annual Catholic lobby day,  also weighed in on the importance of the Dream Act, though he did not get into the political dynamics behind the vote. Dolan says he sees it as a moral and civil rights issue.

He says Pope Francis has heeded Catholics to “take care of the little people.”

“Those are our immigrants,” said Dolan, who says his Irish ancestors were immigrants who were welcomed and became citizens.

“And now, darn it, we need to do the same,” Dolan said. “We need to embrace the people who need us just like the United States did back then.”

Cuomo, in a statement after the Dream Act failed in the Senate, said he, too is disappointed, and says he’ll continue to work with “supporters, stakeholders and members of the legislature to achieve this dream and build the support to pass this legislation.”  He did not mention putting the Dream Act into the state budget.