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Know Your Rights
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Port Richmond Woman is a Face of a ‘DREAM’ Deferred

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — She quietly works two jobs to afford college, because she does not qualify for financial assistance and cannot get a loan from a bank.

She pays taxes, but does not receive refunds because she has no Social Security number.

She is banned from getting a driver’s license or state ID, so she cannot travel in an airplane, even domestically. What’s worse, Sara Martinez — a typical, studious 21-year-old American who speaks accentless English and has only ever called United States home — fears she will not be able to carve out a career in this country because she does not have legal status.

With the Senate’s failure recently to pass the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — a bill that sought to create a path to legal residency for Ms. Martinez and hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youngsters — the Port Richmond community volunteer and pre-med student is trying not to lose hope that, one day, she will be able to lead a full life on Staten Island, where she has lived since she was 18 months old.

“I was inside, watching the vote in person,” said Ms. Martinez, who was among thousands who descended on Washington to rally for the bill’s passage. “At first I was stunned, I couldn’t believe it; then I got disappointed; then a lot of the people I came with started crying and I did too.”

The legislation would have offered the opportunity for legal status to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have been here for five years, graduated high school or gained an equivalency degree, and have joined the military or attended college.

President Obama subsequently met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and reiterated his support for the DREAM Act, which appears to have even less chance when a new, more Republican Congress convenes in January.

The bill targeted the most sympathetic of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States — those brought to the country as children, and who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to their native countries.

Critics of the bill, which was voted down 55-41 mostly along party lines, called it a backdoor to amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of being legalized eventually.

But supporters are quick to point out that the legislation, as written, was narrowly geared to a small segment of the undocumented population.

And it was hardly a free pass: The law would have granted conditional residency for at least six years, and applicants would have been required to complete at least two years of higher education or service to the country, and have a clean criminal record to apply for permanent residency and citizenship. Hefty fines would also have been collected as part of the process.

“The DREAM Act would have benefitted a lot of people but it wasn’t immigration reform,” said Natalia Aristizabal, the youth coordinator with Make the Road New York, which has offices in Staten Island as well as Queens. “We are going to keep up the pressure on our representatives. We are not giving up.”

There are at least 10,000 young New Yorkers whose lives would have been improved by the passage of the Act, she said.

Ms. Martinez said she would continue to take classes in chemistry and biology at the College of Staten Island, even though her hopes of enrolling in the nursing program there were dashed because of the requirements that students be citizens or permanent residents so they can be placed in jobs after graduation.

“I don’t want to give up, but it’s really hard,” she said, fighting back tears.

Her aunts in Mexico have said they’d help her if she were forced back into the country she knows practically nothing about. “I’m like everybody else here except there are so many things I cannot do. Most of my friends don’t even know my legal status.”