NEW YORK—Immigration advocates are hoping to accomplish big things for the roughly 750,000 illegal immigrants living in New York State.
On Monday, they gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce their goals for the upcoming year.
Their first priority is to push the state legislature to pass the New York State DREAM Act, which allows young immigrants without legal status to receive state financial aid when applying to college.
The bill passed in the state Assembly, but failed to gain enough votes in the state Senate last March. Advocates hope the bill will be at the top of this year’s legislative session.
“Education shouldn’t be a privilege, it’s a right for all students,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.
Last year, an unprecedented number of child refugees from Central America crossed the border into the United States, many of them fleeing gang violence in their home countries.
Of the over 56,000 children who were able to find U.S. sponsors, 6,277 were released to sponsors in New York State, according to the latest statistics collected by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That makes New York the state with the second highest number of unaccompanied minors, behind Texas.
Advocates will lobby for more money to support local school districts that provide these children with education—especially in Long Island and Westchester County, where resources for immigrants are scarce. They also want to ensure that the children get legal representation during deportation hearings, and access to mental health services to help them recover from the trauma of their past experiences.
“If we give this to these children, they will grow up and they will lead our stock exchanges, they will walk in the halls of our capitals in Albany and Washington D.C., and they will be our next great musicians and great actors,” said Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition.
To help qualifying immigrants apply for relief from deportation under President Barack Obama’s executive action announced this past November, advocates are also pushing the state legislature to give additional funding to the state Office of New Americans, created in 2013 to assist immigrants with adjusting to life in their new country.
They want at least $30 million to go towards providing legal services, English classes, and job training, as well as combatting scammers who claim to help immigrants with their applications to the relief programs—often charging exorbitant prices.
In New York State, about 338,000 people are eligible for the executive action programs, according to the nonpartisan think tank, Migration Policy Institute.
A group of local advocates will travel to Albany in March to lobby for their agenda, said Thanu Yakupitiyage, communications coordinator for the New York Immigration Coalition.
Other goals advocates hope to achieve are: providing drivers’ licenses to all New York residents, regardless of status; passing a farm workers’ bill of rights that guarantees the right to overtime pay, fair wages, and collective bargaining; and introducing legislation to limit collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the federal agency in charge of deportations.
While the city recently passed a bill that prohibits ICE from detaining illegal immigrants without a federal judge’s warrant, no such bill exists at the state level.
Advocates have long held that immigrants are afraid to report crimes and cooperate with police investigations due to potential exposure to ICE authorities.