Credit: Pat Arnow

State Sen. Bill Perkins said the Dream Act still has a chance to be included in the budget if Gov. Andrew Cuomo argues for its inclusion in the final budget proposal after the legislation failed to pass a Senate vote on Monday, March 17.

Speaking exclusively with the AmNews in an interview at his 125th Street office in Harlem on Friday, March 21, Perkins said it was not too late to include the act in the budget. He made a call to the public to press the governor to negotiate for it in the final budget proposal that the state will pass.

“If the governor pushes for it in the budget with the money, everybody—because of the money—will want to make sure that it would be voted on,” said Perkins. “In a budget, there are a lot of competing interests, so everybody’s not necessarily on the same page. … Some people did not believe that undocumented immigrants, especially those of color, should have the opportunity that the Dream Act provided, to have tuition assistance.”

The Dream Act, which would grant undocumented immigrants access to state financial aid, failed to pass the state Senate vote last Monday, with 30 votes in favor and 29 votes opposed—votes that came mostly from Republicans. The legislation did not get the 32 votes it needed to pass.

Since the vote, advocates of the act have expressed their disappointment. In a telephone interview with the AmNews, Rameen Zaman, campaign organizer for the first group to introduce the New York Dream Act, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), accused the sponsors of the bill of intentionally setting it up to fail.

“We’re disappointed and outraged that Sen. Klein and the Senate leadership were so reckless with our future,” Zaman said. “They obviously knew that we didn’t have the vote that day because some people were absent, and knowing that, they still decided to put it up for a vote. So that tells me this was an intentional ploy to kill our bill [and] that they never had the interest of the undocumented youths at heart.”

Perkins, the first sponsor of the New York Dream Act, said that although a strategic moment was lost, there is still an opportunity for the cause in the state Senate’s ongoing session.

“To those who hear my words, please do your part to help time along by calling Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 518-474-8390 and Temporary President Dean Skelos at 518-455-3171 with a message of humanity, compassion and foresight—urging them to include the Dream Act in the fiscal year 2014-2015 New York state budget,” said Perkins in a prior statement to the AmNews.

Zaman said if Cuomo fails to convincingly argue for the inclusion of the $25 million needed to fund the New York Dream Act, members of the NYSYLC who are between 16 and 17 years old would have to put off entering college while those already in college would have to take on more jobs or take a year off.

“We are still fighting to make sure our Democratic Gov. Cuomo includes it in the budget. If it doesn’t get into the governor’s budget, then everyone should know we don’t really have the support of those who say they support us in public,” said Zaman.

The NYSYLC held a light brigade action [[ED: CLARIFY WHAT A LIGHT BRIGADE ACTION IS?]] last week in front of the City Hall in Manhattan to protest the failure of the Dream Act on the state Senate floor.

The NYSYLC is the first and largest undocumented youth-based organization in New York. They first introduced the bill with Perkins in early 2011 at the state Senate in Albany after the federal Dream Act failed. The federal Dream Act was to create a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented alien minors.

NYSYLC had been involved in advocacy in support of the federal bill. Some of the organization members were arrested in Congress; others walked 250 miles from New York to Washington, D.C., while others held a 10-day hunger strike in front of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office.

The intention of the New York Dream Act was to grant the organization’s more than 3,000 members access to state financial aid, health insurance, driver’s licenses and state work permits.