Controversy has been abundant this week after state Assembly passage of the DREAM Act.
Talk of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors initiative has been a hot-button issue in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo supporting free college for prison inmates, although the two are much different.
"I believe in celebrating diversity," said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown. "I just don't believe in celebrating illegality, and I don't believe in using our tax dollars to reward illegal activity."
Goodell was one of 48 Assembly members to vote against the act, which would enable illegal immigrants to qualify for taxpayer-supported college tuition assistance.
He gave several reasons for voting against the initiative.
"It's inappropriate to use taxpayer money to fund college degrees for those who are in New York illegally, and whose parents violated several laws in getting here," he said.
"I just don't believe in celebrating illegality."
For the act to become law, it would have to be adopted by the Senate, which has shown opposition to the $25 million program.
"We create a perverse system for those who lawfully report their income and work hard and pay taxes, and they would receive lower tuition assistance than those who violate our laws and either work under the table or otherwise don't pay taxes," Goodell said. "I find that fundamentally unfair."
According to American Student Assistance, of the 20 million Americans attending college every year, 60 percent borrow money to annually help cover costs.
There are approximately 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loan debt, and almost $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S.
"The second problem I have with the bill is that the amount of tuition assistance we provide to students in New York state is based on their parents' reported income," Goodell said. "Because it is illegal for the parents of these illegal immigrants to work in New York state, the amount of income they report is zero, which means they'd be eligible for the maximum amount of tuition."
According to a website supporting the bill, nydreamact.org, New York has one of the largest immigrant populations in the U.S., and has failed to equip students with the tools to help them in their higher education pursuits.
"California, Texas and New Mexico have passed state-level DREAM Acts, allowing undocumented students to access state funded financial aid, and New York should join them in passing legislation that is good for our community, good for our youth and good for our economy," states the website.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the state cannot afford to waste bright, creative young minds, and that there are thousands of young people who are "as American in character as any other young person living in this country today."
Although the law must pass in the Senate, Cuomo said he would sign the bill.