The Smithtown office of state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) had a line going out the door last week as advocates called on him and his fellow lawmakers to pass the New York State Dream Act before legislative session ended.
Various faith leaders from congregations across Long Island gathered in prayer outside Flanagan’s office on Thursday with hopes of nudging the recently appointed Senate majority leader to help pass the Dream Act before session ended June 17. The advocates held up signs in protest of the state’s sluggish pace in making the legislation a reality for the nearly 146,000 undocumented immigrants across New York who graduated from public high schools but are unable to access federally-funded financial aid for college.
The bill, which has passed in the Assembly in February by a vote of 87-45, would open up state aid for the students.
Peggy Fort, a retired teacher and social justice chair of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, stood in the crowd outside Flanagan’s office Thursday and said the state had to act before thousands of up-and-coming immigrant children are locked out of the higher education process.
“Allowing our New York State ‘dreamers’ who are full of courage, creativity and intellect to access funding for higher education is a way of ensuring the future of New York State,” she said. “It makes absolutely no sense to continue this policy of no action. But I think we will be able to turn that around.”
A June 2015 report from the Fiscal Policy Institute found there were 526,000 immigrants living on Long Island, making up 18 percent of the population and 20 percent of the economic output. Of those immigrants, almost 100,000 are undocumented — about half living in Suffolk County and half in Nassau.
Victoria Daza, of workers advocacy group Long Island Jobs with Justice, said Flanagan was an ideal Long Island lawmaker to head up the Dream Act push, as his North Shore district encompasses educational hubs Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College. Daza said it was unacceptable that Flanagan has yet to publicly support the legislation in the four years since it was first introduced, leaving students to foot their full college bill with each passing year.
“The Dream Act cannot wait,” she said. “Education is a human right and these kids should not be excluded.”
Flanagan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Soon after a short prayer vigil outside, the throng of advocates marched into Flanagan’s office along with more than 100 petition signatures. Sister Rosalie Carven, a social justice coordinator with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, walked into the office with conviction before handing over the paperwork and asking Flanagan Chief of Staff Ray Bernardo to deliver their message.
“It can’t stop here. Everyone here is an advocate for the passage of this,” she said. “The time is now. The job has to get done. It’s discriminatory to keep kids out of higher education.”