Members of the community spoke out about their struggles as undocumented residents of the United States at a Town Hall meeting last week at LaGuardia Community College on Thursday, March 28.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn discussed the need for an all-inclusive immigration reform and the New York State DREAM Act with the community and other prominent elected officials from Queens, New York.
Quinn stood with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and representatives from Assemblyman Fancisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and Senator Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).
The town hall meeting is the first of a three-part series on immigration reform and the importance of access to higher education for undocumented immigrants seeking professional degrees.
The New York DREAM Act would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to have access to state financial aid and scholarships for higher education as long as they maintain a certain grade point average.
According to the New York DREAM Act information sheet, an estimated 146,000 youth in NY who have been educated in NY public schools are currently ineligible to receive financial aid under federal and state law. Therefore, they are left in limbo after graduating high school.
“We need to make sure everything is accessible to everyone regardless of their status,” Van Bramer said, the first to speak at the podium facing a houseful of attendees inside the auditorium. “Through this series of town halls and the continued support of the New York State DREAM Act, we hope to provide an outlet to the thousands of immigrant voices who would have otherwise gone unheard in their search to achieve the American Dream.”
Emily Park, an undocumented student and Youth Program Associate at the MinKwon Center for Community Action, shared her story and her aspirations to further study neuroscience.
“So many hardworking Dreamers like me take six to seven years to finish and pay for college,” Park said. “Without access to grants and scholarships, we will always be part-time students or stuck in limbo. And more importantly, all immigrants deserve to have pathway to citizenship.”
“We have hardworking New York students, who could go to any college of their dreams, and change the world in unbelievable ways, but their immigration status stops them from moving forwarding,” Quinn said. “As the immigrant debate comes to the forefront of the national spotlight, New York must once again take the lead on this important issue.”
Katherine Tabares, another undocumented student and youth leader of Make the Road New York, spoke to the crowd about her struggles of working two-part time jobs, and her goal to become an immigration lawyer someday.
“The NY DREAM Act must become a reality during this year and I demand on behalf of other Dreamers to pass the Act,” Tabares said. “It is morally wrong to deny talented undocumented students the right of equal education and equal opportunity, when they only thing we want to do is support and improve our new home, the United States.”
“This is not only an immigrant fairness and access issue; it is an economic issue,” said Marie Charles, manager at Haitian Americans United for Progress. “This is an investment with high returns. Passing this act means we will see higher high school graduation rates, increased enrollment in our colleges, and an increase in tax revenue, greater job creation and innovation.”
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