GOP assemblymen rip latest Dem push for tuition aid for illegal immigrants

Republican assemblymen Karl Brabenec and Brian Miller let loose on Monday after the Assembly’s Democratic majority voted for the sixth time to allow the children of illegal immigrants to apply for state tuition grants for college, a perennial bill with slim chances in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Brian MIller

The Assembly, which has passed the so-called DREAM Act every year since 2013, voted 89-44 this time to expand eligibility for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, which allows students whose families earn below prescribed income thresholds to receive annual tuition grants of $500 to $5,165. Giving the children of illegal immigrants access to the TAP program would cost the state about $27 million a year, according to past estimates.

Assembly Republicans uniformly opposed the bill. “Assembly Democrats are hell-bent on using our tax dollars to provide for illegal immigrants while residents struggle to pay for college decades after they’ve graduated,” Miller, a freshman whose district includes seven towns in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan, said in a press release after the vote. “The state’s tax burden is due to the fact that New York has become the land of the handout. I cannot and will not accept this practice, and neither should our residents.”

Brabenec, the Deerpark Republican representing parts of Orange and Rockland counties, castigated “New York City Democrats” for ”pushing to use $27 million of our tax dollars to give free college education to illegals.”

Karl Brabenec

In a 150-member chamber dominated by 103 Democrats, only eight Democrats voted against the DREAM Act. One dissenter was James Skoufis of Woodbury, who previously supported the bill and vigorously defended it during the 2016 campaign when his Republican opponent criticized him for his support. Skoufis argued then that denying tuition aid to the children of illegal immigrants because of their parents’ misdeeds was unfair, and that helping those children get an education and good jobs also made good economic sense.

Skoufis said by email on Tuesday that he still supports the bill’s goals, but voted against it on Monday because it now would also entitle the children of undocumented immigrants to Excelsior Scholarships – the “free tuition” program at New York’s public colleges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo ushered into law last year. Skoufis opposed that program because of eligibility constraints that he said allowed too few students to benefit.

James Skoufis

“This year’s Dream Act rearranges the eligibility criteria to allow the children of undocumented immigrants to qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship,” Skoufis wrote. “While I continue to believe these young children should not be punished for their parents’ transgressions, I could not in good conscience support the new bill when so many students have been wrongly locked out of the Excelsior Scholarship.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the DREAM Act this week, calling immigrants “a vital thread in the social and economic fabric of our state.”

“It is fundamentally and economically misguided to deny students who were educated in our state’s public school system the tools they need to reach their academic potential and fully contribute to our state’s economy,” Heastie said. “When a student’s education is cut short, every New Yorker suffers.”


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    Chris McKenna

    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full
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