They have walked from New York City to Albany, written letters, made countless phone calls, staged hunger strikes and rallies. Now, with only a few working days left in the legislative session, young activists pushing for a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to access to financial aid for higher education are stepping up the pressure on state lawmakers.
“Undocumented youth have waited 10 years for the federal DREAM Act to come through,” Daniela Alulema of the New York State Youth Leadership Council told Fi2W in a phone interview from Albany. “We cannot continue to put our lives on hold.”
The New York State DREAM Act (S.4179/A.6829) would allow undocumented students access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) provided they meet the requirements for in-state tuition. It was first introduced in March of 2011, but has yet to be voted on, despite the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Kristen Gillibrand, the SUNY Board of Trustees, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, and the New York Board of Regents.
With the end of the legislative session set for June 21, Alulema and her allies are demanding action. On Tuesday over 100 people showed up in the Capitol to lobby Gov. Cuomo and members of the legislature. Because they did not get the response they wanted, the activists rallied outside of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Manhattan office today.
“We’re hoping that our legislators will take leadership and make sure that the New York DREAM Act has a chance on the floor this June,” Alulema said.
The coalition of activists includes community organizations and undocumented high school and college students who would be affected by the legislation.
Collectively, the undocumented activists refer to themselves as “DREAMers,” but their dream is something most Americans take for granted.
“I’m not asking for handouts, I’m asking for opportunities,” said Yajaira Saavedra, 24, a student at CUNY currently pursuing her second degree. She came to the United States at the age of four. Once she graduated high school, she discovered she could not apply for financial aid because she is an undocumented immigrant.
“I had to take a year off after high school and work three different jobs to save up for my first semester of college,” she told Fi2W by phone. Now that she’s in school, she has to work full time. “I wake up at 4 a.m. prior to class, ’cause I have to pay full tuition, and I have to pay for all of my books and all my other personal expenses. It’s really hard, just to meet ends,” Saavedra said.
Requests for comment from the offices of Cuomo, Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos went unanswered.
“Making young people wait another year for their dreams to come true is really not what New York is all about,” said Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition. “They’re our future teachers, lawyers, doctors, neuroscientists. Some of them are the valedictorians of their schools.”
Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.