Undocumented Students’ 150-Mile Trek for a DREAM

Students from New York State Youth Leadership Council have walked from New York City to Albany to show their support for the state's DREAM Act. (Photo via Gotham Gazette)

Last week, a group of undocumented students arrived in Albany after a 150-mile, eight-day walk from New York City, to urge state legislators to pass the New York State DREAM Act, Gotham Gazette reported.

The state legislation, which advocates hope legislators will pass by June, when the current legislative session ends, would allow eligible undocumented students to receive state financial aid for their education. A federal version of the DREAM Act, which was voted down in Congress in 2010, would also provide a path to citizenship.

The students are part of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an advocacy group for undocumented students. Marlen Fernandez, a student at Lehman College, said she has struggled to make ends meet without financial aid, and hopes that her journey to the state capital will make an impression on state legislators.

Fernandez, 19, is a sophomore at Lehman College studying to be a medical anthropologist. Like many undocumented youth, Fernandez was brought to this country by her parents when she was a small child. But her undocumented status prevents her from receiving state financial aid to pay for her education, so she has to work two jobs, as a cashier and hostess, while she’s in school to pay her tuition.

“I’m always working to save up for next semester. My parents try to help out but they can’t pay for my school and support a family of five,” Fernandez says. Her parents also both work two jobs.

The Dream Act is expected to cost the state’s Tuition Assistance Program an additional $17 million, which means taxpayers earning between $60,000 and $75,000 annually would pay $1.34 more in state taxes each year, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent economic think-tank that supports the DREAM Act. Advocates say the bill would help 4,000 immigrant students at public colleges seeking state financial aid, and many more who are at private schools or are not in school because they cannot afford it.

The bill’s supporters say that the cost is well worth the investment, since a college diploma would dramatically increase the earning potential of these students and thereby increase the amount they would pay in taxes back to the state. But opponents of the legislation say that it would provide an incentive for illegal immigration.

Governor Andrew Cuomo decided not to include the act in the state budget earlier this month, to the dismay of advocates. But the debate over the bill appears to be far from over. Supporters of the bill are optimistic that the governor will eventually sign on.

“This is consistent with everything he’s said about immigrants and education,” says Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group that is petitioning for the legislation.

Hong points out that the state Education Department, the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees and the state Regent’s Board all support the legislation.

For Fernandez, the march to Albany carried some risk.

Fernandez lives with the threat of deportation now that she has come out as undocumented to support the DREAM Act. But she says that she has accepted that risk because she feels its time to take a stand on this issue.

“If you have the ambition, whether you’re documented or undocumented, you should have the opportunity to get an education,” she says as she continues her march to Albany.

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  1. Pingback: – No Apathy Here: Brooklyn Students Rally for DREAM Act

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