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Corona residents want law passed to give immigrant pupils citizenship

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Hundreds of borough Catholics rallied last weekend outside a Corona church to call on President Barack Obama and Congress to pass a bill that would allow illegal aliens to earn conditional permanent residency.

The DREAM Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives March 26, 2009. The legislation would provide immigrant students with the opportunity to become citizens as long as they graduate from high school, arrived in the country as minors and have been living in the United States for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.

“We want legalization for family unity and due process for workers,” said Jaime Weisberg, director of Queens Congregations United for Action.

Residents from Corona and surrounding neighborhoods turned out in droves Sunday at St. Leo’s Church, on 49th Avenue, to rally for the bill’s passage.

Several students said the legislation would allow them to pursue higher education.

Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the country and Corona is a magnet for immigrants from many parts of the world.

“My dream is to be able to go to college,” said Lucy Muy, who came to the United States from Ecuador 10 years ago. “I went to school for one year, but I had to work to pay for books. I couldn’t stay in school because of money. I want to study to be a professor.”

She said the DREAM Act would allow her to apply for student loans and work study.

The bill is currently stalled in Congress.

“I needed to work so I could support my family,” said Veronica Cabrera, a Corona resident who moved to the United States from Ecuador seven years ago. “My dream is to go to school for theology.”

Cabrera said she wants to be able to obtain her GED.

“I hope the DREAM Act passes,” she said. “If you do not have a Social Security number in this country, you are nothing. I need to send money to my dad in Ecuador. I want to be able to work and study.”

Catholic Church leaders from the borough said they hoped anti-immigration laws, such as the recent ones passed in Arizona, would not become commonplace in the United States.

“We are discouraged by the recent anti-immigration laws and raids, which have been increasing,” said the Rev. Darrell DaCosta of Corona’s St. Paul the Apostle Church on 55th Avenue. “We are calling for a more humane system.”

Attendees at the rally last weekend walked through the 14 Stations of the Cross, which depict the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ. They called on Congress not only to pass the DREAM Act, but also to create more comprehensive immigration reform.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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