A real chance to cheer

Middletown Times Herald-Record

Aug. 2

As the nation mourns those killed and wounded in yet another mass shooting fueled by the kind of hatred echoed far too often in far too many places, we in New York can take comfort in an accomplishment that shows what fairness and compassion look like when translated into public policy.

Last week the state reported that more than 4,000 undocumented college students had applied for financial aid, something they were unable to do before the state Legislature passed the Jose Peralta Dream Act in the recent session.

The act is simple, easy to understand, easy to demagogue. Young people brought here by their parents go through the public school system because the state does not discriminate. Those with a high school diploma who sought to attend college faced an immediate obstacle. Without money to pay the bills themselves, which is the case for most, they could not apply for financial aid. State law required that such aid go only to those who are citizens.

The Dream Act treats these accomplished youngsters the way most people believe all should be treated. If you have the grades, if you have a clean record, if you fill out the forms, you should be able to go on with your education.

Who could be against that? Far too many members of the Republican party including many in this area who saw in the Dream Act not a chance to reward young people for their hard work but a chance to use race and ethnicity to divide the community and get a few votes along the way.

These politicians never failed to stir up anger and resentment by saying that we should not be giving a free college education to illegal immigrants while hard-working New Yorkers struggled to come up with funds to pay for tuition and expenses.

That was a lie, one repeated early and often. The Dream Act lets everybody apply for financial aid. Those without documentation are getting the same treatment as others, not favorable treatment. It does not harm those who work hard to help their children go to college. It embraces everyone who works hard for that reason, immigrant, undocumented and all others.

It should be a symbol of hope and community, and now that is is being implemented it will have a chance to be that.

The state estimates that 7,500 students will apply for aid before the school year begins, a figure challenged no longer by politics or divisive rhetoric but by the usual bureaucratic snags in any large and new complex system, the need to coordinate deadlines and forms across several existing programs and match them with the goals of this new one.

That’s the story of this summer. A few years from now we will be hearing about the first graduates enabled by the Dream Act, those who once would not have been able to get a college degree but now can.

Perhaps by then the opposition will fade, as it should, in the face of a more inclusive reality and the evidence that when leaders say they want youngsters to have a better future, they should mean it.

By Patricia Older

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