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Queens pols speak out against DREAM Act’s failure in Senate

The dreams of many immigrant children died in the U.S. Senate last week, but Queens legislators are working to ensure 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 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 as a legislator in the nation’s most ethnically diverse county 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.”

The DREAM Act would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status by attending college or serving in the U.S. military as long as they met a host of requirements, including learning English, having lived in America for at least five years at the time the bill was made law and having arrived in the United States through no choice of their own.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who co-sponsored the legislation in the House and estimated that 934,000 undocumented children presently in elementary or secondary school nationwide would have been helped by the bill, decried its failure to move forward and called for it to be reintroduced in next year’s Congress and for legislators to make a greater effort to pass it.

“It’s very important. You go to Bayside High School, you go to Flushing High School, you go to Francis Lewis High School, you go to any high school in Queens and you see a lot of people whose lineage is not American, not native American, not born here,” he said. “They’re some of our best students. If they go to high school and go to college or go into the Army, we want to provide a way for them to become citizens.”

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

“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 all foreign-born children deserve a chance to succeed in America.

“Across the nation today, millions of Americans feel a deep sense of grief and betrayal,” she said. “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.

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