ALBANY, New York - Millions of illegal immigrants have been drawn to the United States by employers looking for cheap labor. Those who came with their parents as young children grow up culturally indistinguishable from their American-born peers. But they are bluntly reminded of their status as undocumented outsiders when they apply for college financial assistance. A group of such students is trying to remedy the situation in New York State.
Undocumented students from Lehman College in New York City don academic robes for a protest in the office of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
They are almost immediately ushered out, their protest being deemed illegal. It came at the end of a day of lobbying for passage of the New York DREAM Act, legislation that would make undocumented students eligible for college loans.
The day began with a chartered bus ride to the state capital in Albany. Melissa Garcia says dire economic circumstances in her native Colombia forced her mother to come to the United States 11 years ago. “There are many undocumented youths who are brought here as early as six months. They are babies. They were not aware they were being brought, so going back is not a solution. They do not know the language, they do not know their country. This is what they call home," she said.
“People want to know who we are," she said while leading a chant.
The sponsor of New York's DREAM Act, State Senator Bill Perkins, told VOA the measure would lead to enactment of the federal DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented students. “I think it will sort of light the movement, the flame of support, that I think will trigger similar DREAM Acts throughout the country and alert the national legislature, the government, congresspeople and the president that it’s time to pass the DREAM Act on the federal level," he said.
The students plied the corridors of the state capitol building, reminding legislators that college graduates pay an average of $3,900 more in taxes every year than others. But aides substituting for the state representatives appeared lukewarm.
Assemblyman Steven Englebright expressed understanding for undocumented students, but noted, “Even if they are capable of making significant contributions to this society, the initial political reaction is a negative one ... from some quarters.”
Those quarters are the State Senate, where the Republican Party holds the majority. Many Republicans nationwide oppose assistance to illegal immigrants.
The students ended their day in Albany disappointed. Their protest in the speaker’s office brought no immediate result.
But they rallied again the following day outside of Speaker Silver’s Manhattan office, hoping he will schedule a vote on the act before the legislative session ends on June 21. Approval would make New York the fourth state after Texas, California and New Mexico to grant college assistance for undocumented students.