Immigrant advocates met in Jackson Heights to find out how they could convince elected officials to back a measure that would make immigrants eligible for state tuition funding sources regardless of their legal status.
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act has not passed on the federal level, but state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) is the co-sponsor of a state version of the bill.
Moya said immigration status should not matter when it comes to education and noted that some immigrants drop out of college because they do not have the funds to continue.
“We cannot have that happen anymore,” he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is among those who support the bill, which allows young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents to tap into state financial aid for college.
Those who gathered Saturday at the Renaissance School, at 35-59 81st St. in Jackson Heights, heard from an immigrant student and a California state assemblyman, who got his state to pass its own Dream Act.
Catherine Tavarez, a 16-year-old senior at the International HS at LaGuardia Community College, who arrived in Queens from Colombia more than a year ago, has a 3.9 GPA but said she will have trouble paying for college because she cannot qualify for state financial aid.
“I want to go to college and that has been my dream since I was little,” she said.
Catherine said her father “gave up on us and went back to Colombia” and she only sees her mother three to four times a month because she is constantly working to support the family.
“She’s sacrificing a lot of things for me,” she said. “That would be perfect if the Dream Fund is passed.”
The Dream Fund would set up private monies that immigrants could use to attend college, even if they are in the country illegally.
“I want to get an education and I know that I will be an excellent student if I go to college,” Katherine said.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Corona) said he supports the state legislation.
“I had an opportunity to move ahead and go to college,” he said. “You should have an opportunity to move ahead and go to college. We need to all work together to make sure the Dream Fund become a reality ... because you are the future. We want to make sure you get that opportunity here in New York. The more that you’re educated, the more you can give back.”
California state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Democrat who represents parts of Los Angeles, sponsored the Dream Act in his state and was able to form a coalition to get it to pass.
“This is truly an American story,” he said. “The law is clear that we have an obligation to educate our children regardless of their legal status.”
Cedillo said young students should not be penalized for their parents’ actions in coming to the country illegally.
“Your education is for life,” he said. “Your legal status will change.”
Cedillo said he was optimistic that New York will follow California.
“I’m really hopeful for you going forward because New York leads the way for so many issues on social justice, social change,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2012 Community News Group
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