Immigrant youth leaders from New York and members of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth network in the country, ramped up the pressure on the New York State Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to show real leadership and pass the NY DREAM Act, a bill that would make college affordable for immigrant students who have made New York their home.
“As a network, we’re pushing for victories at the state level, particularly around higher education access. There are now 19 states that offer in-state tuition and four that provide access to state aid, and New York is our next fight,” said Cristina Jimenez, Managing Director of United We Dream, during a telephonic press call this afternoon. “Gov. Cuomo cannot simply say that he supports the DREAM Act and that he will sign it once it gets to his desk. He needs to use his leadership to make sure that bill is passed in the Senate and that ultimately is adopted as law in New York. As the legislative process for immigration reform remains at a standstill, every fight we win at the state and local level leads to a stronger and more powerful movement to win even bigger victories at the national level.”
To listen to a recording of today’s call, click here.
The legislation, which has already passed the state’s Assembly House, would ensure that undocumented immigrant students in New York have access to the same tuition assistance programs as their classmates, easing the financial burden that puts college out of reach for many talented, hard-working immigrant students.
“I found out that I was different from my friends when I couldn’t apply for financial aid. That’s a point when many undocumented students realize that their immigration status is going to hinder how much they can achieve,” said David Chung, a leader with Minkwon Center, a UWD affiliate, who also studies sociology and economics at Hunter College in Manhattan. “The country is watching this fight because it’s as close as it’s ever been. Governor Cuomo can’t say that this is a state that supports diversity without getting the New York DREAM Act on the budget. We first have to welcome the diversity that’s already here, the undocumented students who want to go to college and want to invest back in the state.”
New York is one of 14 states that ensures undocumented students have access to the same in-state tuition rates as their peers, but the several thousand dollars or more per year in tuition costs is often unaffordable without any aid or assistance. Lack of immigration status bars talented students from accessing state financial aid, even though their families pay state and local taxes.
“We have the opportunity to give all our students a chance to further their education, pursue their dreams, and give back to the state they call home,” said Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, an undocumented student from Sarah Lawrence College and board member with United We Dream. “While undocumented students living in New York are currently able to pay in-state tuition, access to higher education remains inaccessible to many students without the help of state financial aid.”
Undocumented students must often work full-time while going to college to try to manage the staggering costs. Mayra Chavez, a leader with Make the Road New York, a UWD affiliate, is currently in her fifth year of trying to complete her associate’s degree.
“I never thought it’d be so hard for me to get my associate’s degree,” Chavez said. “I’ve had to step away from college several times to work, save money, and then go back to school again. The DREAM Act would allow me to finish school, become a nurse, and give back to what New York has given me.”