Politics & Policy

The Latina Who Killed the DREAM Act

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis led the fight against New York's handout for illegal immigrants.

Last month, New Yorkers, especially documented immigrants, were able to celebrate a small victory with the death of the New York State DREAM Act. The bill has been passed by the New York state assembly, but it failed in the state senate in January, only to be returned to the Assembly the same day. The bill failed in the state senate again in June, two votes shy of the 32 it needed to pass. The Empire State’s version of the DREAM Act is now presumed dead.

The New York DREAM Act would have granted the children of illegal immigrants access to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for college. Even though it passed in the assembly, one assemblywoman led the fight that eventually killed it — and she’s Latina.

“Every dollar that’s spent on someone who is here illegally is a dollar that’s being taken away from a citizen,” assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis told National Review Online. Malliotakis, whose district encompasses Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, has an impressive list of “firsts.” She is simultaneously the first Greek-American and the first Cuban-American woman elected to New York State office. She is also the only Republican woman in any office representing New York City.

Malliotakis’s mother fled Cuba after Fidel Castro took office and settled in the United States. Her father is an immigrant from Greece. Her father worked multiple jobs to help his daughter pay for college while she worked part-time at The Gap so that she could afford her tuition. Running this year for her second reelection, the DREAM Act has become one of her top issues.

“The DREAM Act is an unfair policy because in 2010, New York State . . . cut funding for the tuition assistance program . . . and as a result graduate students are no longer eligible for any assistance at all here in the state. Now that they found money, instead of restoring that, they’re putting $25 million to extend TAP for people who are in the country illegally. That is extremely misguided and very backwards,” Malliotakis said of the failed DREAM Act.

When Democrats tried to pass the New York DREAM Act in early 2013, Malliotakis was one of the most vocal elected officials to force the government to concentrate on victims of Hurricane Sandy, which had ravaged much of Staten Island only a few months before. “To focus time, energy, and most importantly tax dollars on tuition aid for illegal immigrants at a time when lifelong Americans are fighting to put their lives back together is unconscionable and frankly offensive,” she said at the time.

In response to this, the Democratic sponsor of the DREAM Act accused her of “exploiting” the Hurricane Sandy victims “in order to score cheap political points to further a radical Republican agenda.”

However, Malliotakis has not just criticized the Left for its poor legislation. She introduced two bills to counter the DREAM Act, which she “urged be used in place of the DREAM Act,” according to a June press release. The first would increase the household income cap for TAP from $80,000 to $100,000, and the second would restore the graduate programs eligible for assistance under TAP. It is estimated that the combined bills would cost less than the DREAM Act would cost. “If they have the funds for the DREAM Act, they certainly have the funds to do my proposal, which would help the citizens and legal residents of the state.”

When National Review Online inquired as to the progress of her bills, Malliotakis said, “My bills have not been brought to a vote. The assembly majority voted on the DREAM Act three times this year. I think that’s what makes Albany very disenchanting and very frustrating, not only for me, but for the taxpayers, because we have a policy that doesn’t help one citizen in the state of New York and we are debating it and voting on it three times in one legislative session. But we’re going to keep building momentum on this issue in the hope that the governor will take note of this and include portions of this into his budget for 2015.”

Although Malliotakis’s focus is New York, she is no stranger to national politics, having taken the stage at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as part of the “10 Conservatives Under 40” panel. While speaking to NRO, she criticized President Obama for “creating” the current border crisis by “sending a message that any minors that enter the country can stay here.” She is not a fan of the federal DREAM Act either and would like to see the “development of a streamline of the current wait list of people who are coming here legally.”

She stated plainly, “I support an immigration reform plan that would enforce the borders [and] provide for E-Verify, to make sure that we have American workers working,” an opinion Malliotakis shares with Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), whom she calls “my Cuban-brother-from-another-mother.”

It is surprising that New York did not join the list of states providing tuition assistance to undocumented students, which includes California, New Mexico, Texas, and now Washington. New York is notoriously welcoming to illegal immigrants. Last week, the New York City Council overwhelmingly voted in support of a municipal identification-card program that would include illegal immigrants. These ID cards would allow half a million undocumented immigrants living in New York City to open bank accounts and sign apartment leases. But Malliotakis and a few other politicians are still pulling on the side of citizens and legal immigrants in this tug-of-war.

“Any immigrant who is a citizen of this state should be appalled by the DREAM Act,” Malliotakis said, “because while they’re taking out debt . . . and while they’re working multiple jobs to put their kids through school, those who do not follow the rules are set to get a benefit that should be reserved for citizens.”

— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.


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