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Congress fails to pass DREAM Act

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The dreams of many immigrant children died in the U.S. Senate last week, but Queens legislators are working to ensure that they live on.

The DREAM Act would have been a landmark piece of legislation aimed at paving a way to citizenship for many foreign-born youths living in America.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month, but opponents scuttled it in the Senate Saturday, voting 55-41 to block it from going to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) does not want to let the dream die so easily, so she is taking a step toward doing what she believes may be the next thing for these youngsters.

She wrote U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services New York District Office Director Andrea J. Quarantillo to urge her to grant “deferred action” status to New York’s undocumented youth.

Deferred action status would at least temporarily allow children of undocumented immigrants to have valid identification, work lawfully and earn fair wages, go to college and live without fear of being removed from the country.

“Do not punish our future leaders. Every child deserves the opportunity to become a valuable member of our great country, to contribute to the country they have called home since childhood,” Meng said in a statement. “With the Dream Act having failed to achieve the necessary amount of votes in the Senate, deferred action now remains our students’ only chance to fulfilling their dreams.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who cosponsored the legislation in the House and estimated that 934,000 undocumented children presently in elementary or secondary school would have been affected by the bill, decried its failure to move forward.

City Comptroller John Liu seconded Ackerman’s concern over the thwarting of the bill.

“The failure of the DREAM Act adversely impacts New York as a whole and limits our full potential. It would have helped the City of New York and the rest of our nation remain competitive in the global marketplace with skilled and talented individuals achieving higher education,” Liu said. “Humane, comprehensive immigration reform remains long overdue and desperately needed.”

Some New York officials, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, were glad to see the bill die.

“Every slot in our taxpayer-funded state colleges that goes to an undocumented student is a slot not going to our youngsters who are here legally,” he said in a statement.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, countered that view, saying in a statement Saturday that the American-raised children of New York’s immigrant community deserve a chance to succeed in this country.

“Today the U.S. Senate substituted political posturing and cowardice for leadership. With an 11th-hour chance to pass the DREAM Act, the Senate chose to scuttle the opportunity for young people to fulfill their potential and contribute fully to our country, the only place they call home,” she said. “Across the nation today, millions of Americans feel a deep sense of grief and betrayal. This is not the America we should be. We will not let Congress off the hook. We will continue to fight for justice and opportunity, and stand up against destructive and divisive measures.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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