By Austin Ostro | May 7, 2020

The Trump administration last week blocked tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from accessing federal stimulus funds earmarked to help college students impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This was in keeping with the administration’s long track record of  policies that harm immigrant communities. The White House is steadfastly refusing to allow any of the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 bailout money to assist undocumented individuals – even if they have long held jobs and faithfully paid their taxes.

It’s also just one more in a series of injustices dealt to young people who came to this country as children and whose futures now hang by a thread as the U.S. Supreme Court mulls a 2017 move by the White House to rescind the protection from deportation that the DACA programs affords.

As of 2017, some 25 percent of New York’s approximately 33,000 DACA recipients were enrolled in post-secondary schools, according to data compiled by the Migration Policy Institute. These students, also known as “Dreamers”, have worked hard to get where they are, and have overcome the unique challenges posed by their legal status.

Dreamers entered the United States through no fault of their own as children. For many, the United States is the only home they have ever known. They are American in every way and deserve to be treated as such. They need equal education treatment, and permanent protections that only Congress can provide.

This is a time of great uncertainty for all New York students, be they K-through-12 or at the post-graduate level. Their lives have been completely upended due to the wholesale shift to online learning required to try to prevent the virus from spreading. It is unclear when, or even if, academic pursuits will return to normal.

In my role as SUNY Student Assembly president, I represent all SUNY students, regardless of their country of origin, and fight for their collective wellbeing. The Student Assembly has a long history of supporting legislation that extends protections for DACA students.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo has said on many occasions, we are all immigrants. For years I’ve heard the stories about my family, who in times of crisis were forced to flee Eastern Europe. Like  millions of other European Jews, they disembarked in New York, where they found refuge and their shot at the American Dream.

My classmates and friends who are Dreamers want and deserve that same opportunity. Yet, even enrolling in college or university is an uphill battle.

Undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients do not qualify for federal financial aid, because, according to the Education Department, that aid is only intended for U.S. citizens.

The SUNY system and Chancellor Kristina Johnson have been working to pave the way for a more humane and equitable higher education system. SUNY clearly states that it does not consider national original or immigration status to be a factor in admissions. It also offers financial aid packages through the Senator Jose Peralta New York State Dream Act to undocumented students who attended and graduated from a New York high school or equivalency program.

I am proud to be a member of an institution that embraces our differences and sees diversity as a strength, not something to be punished or shunned.

Now more than ever we must step up and protect the Dreamers, not only because recent polling by the Center for American Progress shows that the majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle support DACA, but because we need our Dreamer neighbors and we need to stand alongside them.

The pandemic has demonstrated just how closely all of us are intertwined – across the state, the nation, and the globe. The measure of my success is dependent on the success of my classmates and friends, regardless of their immigration status.

As we move to rebuild our economy in the post-COVID-19 era, New York needs the strength, ingenuity and resolve of all its citizens – including its Dreamers. We will never fully recover from the pandemic unless we prioritize the recovery of all residents equally.


Austin Ostro is the president of the SUNY Student Assembly and Trustee on the SUNY Board of Trustees. He is a second-year graduate student at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, where he is pursuing his Master’s in Public Administration.