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State 'DREAM Acts' Hotly Debated in Immigrant-Rich New York and Florida

As federal immigration reform efforts remain stalled in Congress, politicians in two immigrant-rich states are haggling over proposed laws that would break down barriers to higher education for undocumented students.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott today announced his support for legislation that would grant in-state tuition rates to some undocumented immigrants, the Associated Press reported, providing a major boost to the cause of many immigrant advocates who have tried for several years to get Florida to pass a so-called state DREAM Act. 

The Florida bill, sponsored by a Republican in the state Senate, would grant in-state tuition rates to students—regardless of their immigration status—who attended a Florida high school for at least three years and who apply for college within two years of graduation. Undocumented students would not be eligible for state financial aid.

Meanwhile, in New York state, lawmakers are at odds over a bill that would make undocumented high school graduates eligible for state financial aid packages that educators and immigrant advocates say would break down a major barrier to higher education in the state for students who were brought illegally to the United States as children.

While New York is already among the 19 states with so-called DREAM Acts, which allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates for state colleges and universities, it has not moved to do what a smaller handful of states have by providing financial aid packages to students without legal immigration status. In many states, that has proven a tougher political sell.

The measure already passed New York's state Assembly and is awaiting a vote on the state Senate floor, where at least a handful of Republican votes are necessary for passage. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already pledged to sign the bill if it's approved by the state Senate.

Advocates for passage of the financial aid piece of New York's DREAM Act say that roughly 3,500 undocumented students graduate from New York high schools each year. They are ramping up pressure on the state's majority Democrats, including Gov. Cuomo, to make sure that somehow, some way, undocumented students are made eligible for college-aid packages.

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