Petitioning Cuomo, at City Hall, to get involved in the Dream Act in Albany

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Rally for the Dream Act. (Elizabeth Gonzalez)
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Against a backdrop of more than 50 students holding banners and chanting “si se puede” on the steps of City Hall at high noon on Tuesday, council members and immigration advocates took turns demanding passage of the so-called New York State Dream Act, a proposal on which Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to take a position.

The legislation would give undocumented young immigrants access to tuition aid, and Cuomo’s support is crucial if the bill is to get through Albany. But the governor has kept his distance so far, possibly out of concern that support for it could adversely affect a bid for president in 2016.

Participants in the event included Council speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Daniel Dromm. Most of them appealed to the governor directly, urging him to include the act in the state budget.

“It makes economic sense,” Councilwoman Gale Brewer. “It makes student sense. It makes all kinds of sense.”

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"Governor Cuomo, we were so proud of you with what you did with gay marriage last year," said Jose Calderon, of the Hispanic Federation. "Do the same thing you did for the gay community, for the immigrant community."

An hour after the rally, a portion of the same crowd filed into a committee room at 250 Broadway, where a joint hearing of the Council’s committees on immigration and higher education pursued the subject further, calling for a “New York Dream Fund” to accompany the act.

“New York has always been a leader in immigration law,” said Quinn. “We must continue to be.”

While Dream acts have been passed in California and Texas, and a fund created in Illinois, New York State’s immigration population arguably stands to benefit the most from passage of such a bill.

Of the nearly 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants in the United States, 400,000 of them could benefit from a New York Dream Act, according to Emerald Isle Immigration Center, an organization that advocates for the legislation.

According to the EIIC, workers in New York with a bachelor’s degree earn a median income of $25,000 more than those with only a high school diploma.

Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s higher education committee, said it’s vital to provide tuition help to give the immigrant population a chance to enter the middle class.

Katherine Tabares, who spoke at the rally and at the committee hearing, called the legislation “investment in intellectual capital.”

“The money you spend now will be returned,” she said.

Tabares, 16, emigrated from Colombia two years ago and is now a senior and president of her class at International High School at La Guardia Community College, with a 3.9 grade-point average and hopes of a career in environmental engineering.

“With the G.P.A. that you have, there shouldn’t be any obstacle,” said chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, standing up and addressing Tabares along with three other students who testified.

You will graduate from college,” Rodriguez said, pointing at the students. “You are a role model.”