Students from Brooklyn and Queens visited the Capitol today to lobby for the New York DREAM Act, legislation that would make undocumented immigrants who arrive in the United States before they turn 18, are below age 35 and have lived in New York for at least two years eligible for state- and city-funded financial-aid programs, including the Tuition Assistance Program. To be eligible, they must have a high-school diploma or GED and cannot have any felony convictions.
They are also supporting a bill that would set up the NYS DREAM Fund, which would set up a commission to provide private scholarships to children of immigrants who want to attend college, regardless of their immigration status. It is sponsored by Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens.
The DREAM Act is sponsored by Sen. Bill Perkins and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, both Manhattan Democrats, who held a public hearing on it in December. A website on the legislation says a second bill will be introduced later. It would provide identification cards for undocumented students in the educational system.
The state Board of Regents is supporting a state DREAM Act that would ensure access to financial aid. Regents and state Education Commissioner John King have said that there are roughly 345,000 New York public-school students who are children of undocumented parents.
The efforts in New York are in response to a federal DREAM Act that so far has not been successful in Congress. President Barack Obama last month asked Congress to adopt the legislation, which would provide educational opportunities and a path to permanent legal status or citizenship for young undocumented immigrants raised in this country.
“When things have been dark for me, my faith and dreams have kept me going. Today I’m standing in front of the state legislature so that my DREAMs to go to college may come a reality,” William Mejia, youth leader of Make the Road New York, said in a statement.
Katherine Tabares, Colombian immigrant and current Student Body President of the International High School at La Guardia, said in a statement that it’s important politicians and decision-makers listen to students voices. “It is very important that politicians and decision makers listen to our voice. We are not just undocumented students, we are an integral part of our community that is looking for a better future for New York,” she said.
Linares said he can’t imagine a better investment than letting undocumented youth access to higher education. “The New York State Dream Act will open the doors to thousand of undocumented students to a brighter future creating equal educational opportunities for all New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
Many undocumented immigrant children have grown up in the United States and it is the only country they know, said Sen. Jose Peralta, D-Queens. “In their hearts and minds they are American and did not become aware they were in the United States unlawfully until it came time to apply for college,” he said.