New York State's version of the Dream Act to give state tuition assistance to students in the country illegally failed in the Senate by two votes. Credit: longislandwins/Flickr
A bill to give state tuition assistance to students in the country without documentation failed by a slight margin in the state Senate late Monday.
The vote, which the body's Democrats have been requesting for at least two years, was 30 in support and 29 opposed. The Dream Act needed 32 votes to pass.
Hours before the vote, advocates were hopeful that at least two Republican senators would flip on the legislation that would grant $25 million from the state's Tuition Assistance Program to students who are in the country without documentation. GOP Sens. Jack Martins and Phil Boyle both represent significant Latino communities in Long Island.
However, Boyle was not in attendance and Martins voted against the bill. He began to explain his vote by sympathizing with the immigrant community but distanced himself from the proposal's broad language.
"If this bill was about those children who arrived here as infants, and providing them an opportunity … we'd be having a different discussion," Martins said. "Let's be frank. This isn't what this bill is about. This bill opens the door far wider than that."
Martins and every other Republican in the body voted against the bill. Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who sits with the Republicans, voted against the bill, as did Sen. Ted O'Brien of Rochester.
Most of the opposition to the bill was grounded in the use of taxpayer money on students who did not arrive in the country legally.
Sen. Mark Grisanti, who represents the Buffalo region, dampened comparisons between previous generations of immigrants and today's.
"This has nothing to do with the grandparents of anybody in this room," Grisanti said. "I simply cannot justify spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to pay for tuition for illegal immigrants when so many law-abiding families are struggling to meet the ever-increasing costs of higher education for their own children."
During the vote, bill sponsor Sen. Jose Peralta of Queens admitted that the margin would "razor-thin."
"We had an opportunity," Peralta told reporters after the vote. "Individuals have immigrants in their district where they could have stood up and they could have done the right thing, but they didn't. They didn't do the right thing."
"I'm disappointed that the New York State Senate failed to pass the New York State Dream Act and denied thousands of hardworking and high-achieving students equal access to higher education and the opportunity that comes with it," the governor said in a statement, vowing to work to pass a new bill in the future.
California, New Mexico and Texas all have laws similar to the one set back by Monday's vote.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria