My family and I migrated to the U.S. in 2007. At the age of 8, I entered elementary school not knowing a word of English. Today, I am a college freshman.
But, without access to state financial aid, I may not be able to continue my college education.
I am not alone.
By excluding the New York State Dream Act from the state budget for the eighth year in a row, New York has failed thousands of Dreamers. This year in particular, protections from states are more crucial than ever as Dreamers have become the targets of Trump’s anti-immigrant attacks since he announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). More broadly, immigrant families like mine wait in fear of what Trump’s next move might be to tear more families apart.
But New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the legislature, have failed to show their commitment to immigrant youth like me and our families by not passing the Dream Act.
The New York Dream Act would provide Dreamers like me with access to state financial aid. Without it my future remains uncertain. Governor Cuomo said his budget was a “blueprint of progressive action” that helps “New York to lead amid a concerted and sustained assault from Washington.”
But Dreamers and our parents are the main targets of that “assault,” and this budget did not include us.
The Governor and the newly reunified Senate Democrats must make the New York Dream Act a priority for the rest of the legislative session, whether they are a majority or not.
There are no more excuses.
Some people say that the Dream Act is a long shot. But, immigrant youth like me have been overcoming the odds all our lives.
When I started school without speaking English, I cried every day. But my parents stood by me and cheered me on; that drove me to continue my education, including giving up my weekends and summers to catch up to be at the same level as my classmates. When I graduated from elementary school I received an award; I will never forget my mother’s smile that day.
By the time I began my junior year in high school, my two older brothers had started college and my parents worked endless hours to help pay their tuition. For our family that meant a tighter budget. For me, it meant working more hours to pay for school.
Attending high school was a big step. But I also knew that continuing on to college would be very hard; my parents could not afford to pay $20,000 or more per year to support me at a time I could not access any state financial aid.
My mother works cleaning houses. My father, who struggles with health issues, works in construction. I clean houses with my mother on the weekends to earn money to help pay my tuition.
My older brothers are still in college. But they are forced to study part-time because they too do not have access to state financial aid and cannot afford full time tuition. With rents increasing, my family has had to move from place to place trying to find an affordable apartment. Paying three college tuitions, with no access to financial aid, my family struggles every month to make ends meet.
Despite these odds, my family and I have managed to pay for my first year of college, where I’m studying hospitality and tourism administration. My parents are extremely proud of their children; despite the enormous financial burden, they see their hard work paying off.
I want to continue my education.
That’s why immigrant youth like me demand that Governor Cuomo and legislators, especially with Senate Democrats now reunified, finally make the New York State Dream Act a priority this year. This bill would change my life and that of thousands of undocumented students who graduate from high school every year with the hopes of attending college.
It is a shame that New York is still behind states like California, Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota–and, soon, New Jersey, where a similar bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly and is just waiting for Governor Murphy’s signature. These states have allowed undocumented students access to state financial aid to help them graduate from college. In the midst of constant attacks from Trump’s Administration towards immigrant youth, Governor Cuomo and Albany’s leaders must stand up for us. No more excuses.
Poleth Farfan is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY.