Undocumented Youth to Walk from NYC to Albany to Lobby for NYS DREAM Act

New York Youth fighting for the NYS Dream Act in Albany

The NYS DREAM Act would give undocumented youth access to college tuition assistance. (Photo: Long Island Wins)

New York  – A small group of undocumented young people and their supporters are expected to leave New York City on foot today, and begin a trek to Albany to promote the New York DREAM Act.  The 150 mile march to the state capitol is the latest effort by DREAM Act supporters to pressure N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in the state legislature to support the proposed law.

The New York DREAM Act would open the state Tuition Assistance Program and scholarships to all students, regardless of their immigration status.

The New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), which organized the march, wrote in a press release that it “is committed to see this bill pass by June 2012 and is ready to walk any number of miles to advocate for legislation that would address the barriers to higher education that undocumented youth face.”

Last week, three undocumented young women were arrested in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office for blocking traffic in a demonstration urging the governor to include the DREAM Act in the state’s executive budget—he did not.

The three women, Sara Martinez, Janet Perez, and Rosario Quiroz, say they were given one warning by police, and then taken into custody. They were booked at the 17th Precinct and charged with disorderly conduct. Because they didn’t have state approved identification and could not verify their home addresses, they were taken to the Manhattan Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street and held overnight. All three are due back in court on April 25th.

Sara Martinez said she never thought she’d be in jail. But she says she’s not willing to let another year go by without passing the DREAM Act.

Sara’s mother brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a baby.  Like many undocumented youth, she discovered her immigration status when she started thinking about applying to college. She is the oldest of four children.  All her siblings were born here and are U.S. citizens.

Sara, 22, is studying biology at the College of Staten Island. Her dream was to go to medical school and become a pediatrician, but now she says she is planning to pursue physical therapy instead because she can actually afford that program.

Sara was among the undocumented youth interviewed in preparation for a DREAM Act forum last fall at The New School organized by Feet in 2 Worlds. While she’d been involved with the New York State Youth Leadership Council since 2008, she had only recently started to publicly reveal her immigration status. She was nervous and shy in her emotional video testimonial.

The New York DREAM Act has a long list of Democratic legislative cosponsors, and has the backing of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to openly support the bill, even though he has been supportive of other immigration initiatives. Last year he suspended the state’s participation in the controversial federal law enforcement program Secure Communities and declared that New York State government services will be available in six languages.

The estimated cost of the bill is $17-million. A recent Fiscal Policy Institute analysis shows that the cost to most New Yorker taxpayers would be less than buying a latte.

Since 2010 when Congress narrowly failed to pass the federal DREAM Act, a few states have passed local versions. These local bills do not offer the opportunity for citizenship as would the federal version, but they do provide scholarship opportunities and tuition benefits to help undocumented youth attend college.

Likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney opposes the DREAM Act, although he supports a so-called military DREAM Act. Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American Florida senator who is said to be a potential Romney running-mate, is working on a version of the DREAM Act that he says would give young people an opportunity to legalize their status—but not put them on a path to citizenship.

“I’ve come a long way,” Sara Martinez said tearfully in a recent phone interview.

Sara’s never been in trouble before. She’s never been suspended from school and maintains good grades. Yet the urgency of the DREAM Act drove her to take drastic measures last week, leading her to spend the night in a holding cell with women charged with assault and drug possession. For Sara, it was worth it.

“It was about showing Gov. Cuomo, we are here as undocumented youth and we’re making noise. We’re just going to keep on pressuring him,” she said.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutVon Diaz
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.