The cost of a slice of pizza is $1.99. For the average tax payer, the New York State DREAM Act wouldn’t even cost this much. It is a small price to pay for a bill that would provide all New York students, regardless of immigration status, equal access to state financial aid for college.
According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the DREAM Act would cost the New York State Tuition Assistance Program an estimated $17 million. This may seem like a large sum, but it is only 2% of the annual state education budget. To put this number into perspective, people who earn an income of $60,000-$75,000 would contribute an extra $1.34 in taxes annually. Folks who earn $100,000-$200,000 would contribute an extra $3.44 in taxes. Those who earn around $20,000 would contribute an extra 8 cents in taxes.
In return for these few extra dollars, students will not only be able to afford a college education, but also be able to more fully contribute back to their communities. As stated by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a bachelor’s degree increases the median earned income of a New York State worker by $25,000 per year. Higher incomes also means higher taxes paid to state and local governments. In sum, for the price of a slice of pizza, we will be educating students who will be able to contribute back boxes of pizza a year.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not to pass the New York State DREAM Act should not be solely based on a cost-benefit analysis. Passage of this legislation will help DREAMers like Kim who was brought from South Korea to New York at the age of 8 by her single mother who wanted a better life for her daughter. They have relatives in New York who are U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor them but because of delays in our dysfunctional immigration system they have been undocumented for the past 12 years. With all her close family and friends in New York, Kim cannot imagine calling any other place home. Kim sees herself as an American and her American dream is to one day become an immigration lawyer.
To those who argue that there is no point in educating undocumented students because they will not be able to get a real job upon graduation, she says, “If I had listened to those people, I wouldn’t have done anything with my life. I found out that I was undocumented during my senior year of high school, but I never let that interfere with my education. Even though I have had to work multiple jobs to pay for college, I think going to college is worthwhile because a college education is not just about getting a job. Being a college student is what I am. At this stage in my life, it helps me feel like I am no different my peers.”
Kim’s story is not an uncommon one in New York. According to the Urban Institute, 86% of immigrant families are of mixed status with a combination of green card holders, citizens, and undocumented individuals. Parents strive to get naturalized, but sometimes in the process, something goes wrong or the children age out and as a result, become undocumented. Despite these difficult circumstances, students like Kim do not give up on their college education because having a college degree will help them realize their goals.
All of us at one point were dreamers with hopes to one day become a culinary chef, a doctor, or even an ambassador. We ask you to look back at your high school years when your future seemed wide-open with endless possibilities. Now we ask you to imagine graduating high school only to face a brick wall. To realize that you cannot afford college and that the only jobs available to you are at the corner grocery stores because you lack a nine digit social security number.
We ask Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Skelos and Assembly Speaker Silver this question: Is the cost of a slice of pizza too high to help these students realize their dreams?