DREAM Act draws fire at Senate hearing
|Undocumented college students from California protest in support of the federal DREAM Act. A state version, which would give certain rights such as identification documents and access to health care and financial aid for certain qualified undocumented immigrants, drew criticism at a homeland security public hearing. Photo by AP.|
April 18, 2011Although a U.S. Senate filibuster blocked passage of the federal DREAM Act, aimed at providing identification documents and even citizenship to undocumented minors, similar legislation is currently sponsored in both houses of the state Legislature.
The act, which is named the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, if adopted by New York, would give qualified illegal aliens access to state identification documents, health insurance, employment programs and financial aid for higher learning.
"Undocumented youth in this great state go to school, love their families, participate in their communities and dream of bright futures," said the bill's Senate sponsor, Bill Perkins, D-Harlem. "These youth and their families deserve recognition and justice, not inequalities."
The bill (S.4179/A.6892), sponsored in the Assembly by Guillermo Linares, D-Manhattan, would only apply to those who entered the country before the age of 16, completed high school or obtained an equivalent degree, have no felony convictions and have either completed two years toward a college degree or served in the National Guard.
"The New York DREAM Act is narrowly tailored to give youth who have grown up and gone to school in New York the opportunity to give back to our community and our economy," said Perkins.
However, testimony at a state Senate public hearing April 8 suggested the act would make New York vulnerable to terrorists.
Mike Cutler, a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service special agent, who spoke at the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee's hearing, called access to driver's licenses a key tool terrorists use to "hide in plain sight."
"Are there implications with the DREAM Act that go to the heart of what you're talking about?" asked committee Chairman Greg Ball, R-Patterson.
"Absolutely," replied Cutler.
"That's why I've come to call the comprehensive immigration reform program the terrorist assistance and facilitation act," said Cutler. "If you start to give people official identity documents and lawful status, then you're providing them with an opportunity to create their own witness protection program."
In 2007, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer created national controversy by pushing a plan that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain New York driver's licenses, a plan Spitzer gave up on after being met with overwhelming opposition.
After the hearing, Ball was asked whether he would be opposed to Perkins' bill based on the testimony he heard.
"As chairman of Homeland Security and someone who realizes that the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had over 300 forms of identification, we've got to make sure that our New York state driver's licenses and other forms of state identification are thorough and that they remain an international standard," said Ball. "To the extent that any act or any legislative push would weaken that, I'd be against it. But we'll see in future meetings."
"That is absolutely nonsense," said Perkins, responding to the testimony and Ball's remarks that linked the legislation and terrorism. Perkins called America a "country of immigrants" and said equating immigrants to terrorists was "un-American."
"I think it's a hot rhetoric that is only divisive and totally misses the mark," said Perkins.
Ball is not the only legislator to have expressed concerns about what he sees as possible negative consequences of the DREAM Act.
"Illegal aliens break the laws of the United States as their first act in this country, and now politicians in the New York City-dominated Assembly want to reward them with new rights and entitlements," said Assemblyman Dan Burling, R-Warsaw. "There are processes that need to be followed to be legally allowed to live in this country and these laws are for the protection of the citizens already here. While the system is not perfect, people who circumvent our rules entirely and enter this country unlawfully should be sent back to their country of origin, not rewarded with new rights and entitlements."
Perkins has 13 Democratic co-sponsors on the bill, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee March 22. The bill is in the Governmental Operations Committee in the Assembly and has 19 co-sponsors.