I remember it clearly: I entered my college counselor’s office last year full of hopes, ready to learn what my college options were, where could I go to study the career of my dreams. But I walked out a different person — one who thought college might never happen for me because I am undocumented.
When I came to the United States at the age of 14, I quickly enrolled in high school and studied endlessly to be able to catch up to my peers and further my education. Now, almost five years later, and with hopes of attending college, I stood outside of my college counselor’s door, uncertain with what my future will look like.
As an undocumented student in New York State, I had no access to the state financial aid, loans or any type of financial assistance that would allow me cover my college tuition. I graduate this June, first in my family to graduate high school and go on to college.
Until last week, I had doubts about whether I could enroll in college in the fall. That changed when the state Senate and Assembly passed the state Dream Act.
To see history happen, I got on the bus with 50 immigrant youth from community organization Make the Road New York. It was my first time in Albany, and I was anxious looking down at our State Senators and Assembly members as they debated and cast their votes on my future. In 2014, the Senate failed to pass this bill by just two votes. This time around, there was new leadership in Albany.
After about three hours of deliberation, the Dream Act passed by a vote of 40-20, followed by the state Assembly, who passed this bill for the ninth time. I couldn’t believe it: After a long struggle, the state Legislature had finally taken a stand for equal opportunity for immigrant youth like me. I looked around and I saw the tears of youth who had been fighting for this, long before I even got to high school.
Now, once Governor Cuomo signs the bill (which he says he supports), I will be able to go to school next semester because I will have access to state financial aid.
My younger sister, who is 12, will not have the same conversation I had with my college counselor, her dreams of attending college will not be cut short. And undocumented students across the state will have an equal opportunity to state financial aid and pursue their dreams of continuing their education after high school.
Still, we know the work of undocumented youth for justice for our communities is not over. With this win under our belts, we’re now going to keep working to make sure that our families are protected. In New York, where immigrants are regularly detained because they can’t access driver’s licenses, ensuring access to licenses for all is our next fight.
Immigrant New Yorkers have tasted a crucial victory to ensure equal access to higher education. Now, as we face grave attacks from Washington, it’s time to keep moving forward then signed the bill to keep our families together.
Salinas is a member of Make the Road New York.