New York DREAM Act Introduced in State Senate

A New York State Youth Leadership Council rally in Union Square, NY, on March

A New York State Youth Leadership Council "coming out" event in Union Square, NY, on March 20, 2011. (Photo: Von Diaz)

NEW YORK–The  youth movement advocating to give young, law-abiding undocumented immigrants a chance to apply for legal status in the U.S. has not been deterred by the failure of the DREAM Act to advance in Congress.

This week, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), the group leading the charge for the bill in New York, declared a victory. State Senator Bill Perkins (D-30) introduced a version of the DREAM Act in the senate on Tuesday that would bring New York’s undocumented youth many more rights.  It is modeled after the federal version, but it would not get them on a path towards citizenship–only the federal government holds that power.

“We’re very excited, this is one of the most progressive bills particularly when we’re surrounded by failure of the federal DREAM Act and other anti-immigrant bills around the country,” said Sonia Guinansaca, 21, a young woman with the NYSYLC who would be affected by the bill.

While continuing to put pressure on members of Congress, young activists around the country have simultaneously been lobbying for more rights for undocumented youth to be granted at the state level. The New York State Dream Act would give undocumented youth under 35 who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and have resided in New York for at least two years with “good moral character” access to state funded financial aid programs including grants, loans and scholarships (New York is already one of 10 states in the union that grants undocumented immigrants in-state tuition to public colleges); ability to obtain a state drivers’ license; state work authorization; and the ability to enroll in state health insurance programs.

Sen. Perkins told Fi2W that he believes the passage of this bill will benefit the entire state by training future scientists, doctors and teachers who have grown up in America. “These are children who are law abiding participants in our community who are participating in our public schools who need opportunities to fulfill their dreams and contribute to society,” he said.

Perkins is optimistic about the bill’s future in the state legislature. “I’ve adopted a Haitian phrase, ‘little by little the bird builds it’s nest.’ I’ve already gotten some very positive support in the Senate,” Perkins said, adding that he is also in talks with a potential sponsor in the Assembly.

In-state tuition for undocumented immigrants lies on well-trodden legal ground, said Suman Raghunathan, Immigration Policy Specialist at the Progressive States Network, who is keeping track of similar bills around the country. But she said the work authorization aspect of this bill, similar to what recently passed in Utah, is  “unchartered territory.”

“There is no real legal precedent for the federal government to cede authority to states to determine work authorization,” Raghunathan said.

In a grand sense, for Perkins and other legislative supporters of the bill, the idea is that New York can meet its economic goals while also achieving educational equity. Meanwhile, the youth fighting for the DREAM Act are stepping out of the shadows and “coming out” with their undocumented status publicly.

“We’re making a statement that we are here, undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic and we’re going to work to resolve this issue. That is what this New York State campaign has meant for many of us and we’re not going to give up,” said Guinansaca.

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