NEW YORK—As legislation makes its way through the state senate that would remove barriers preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining financial aid, 10 undocumented students received scholarships that will help them continue their education amid financial struggles.
A bill titled “Education Equity for DREAMers Act,” currently going through the state senate, seeks to remove barriers that undocumented immigrants face in receiving financial aid. Undocumented immigrants can, however, already qualify for lower in-state tuition.
The New York Immigration Coalition awarded $10,000 scholarships to the students for the spring semester, along with its partners, the Korean American Community Foundation and the Office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
The scholarship, or the DREAM Fellowship, is named after state legislation introduced last year that would give undocumented youth benefits, such as access to driver’s licenses and work authorization, if they meet certain criteria.
“We’re not going to sit by and let legislative gridlock stop the futures of these young people,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the coalition. “That’s why we embark on this major project to support them.”
The 10 winners were chosen out of more than 100 applicants. The City University of New York (CUNY) has approximately 2,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the New York Senate. The winners also received an internship with one of the coalition’s member organizations, and enrollment in a leadership program.
Coming from diverse backgrounds and different schools within the CUNY system, the students talked on Thursday about what the awards meant to them, and the obstacles undocumented students face.
Yohan Garcia, 26, Hunter College, Political Science
-Born in Mexico
-Internship: NYCPP/La Fuente
-Earned an associate degree in business management at BMCC, legislative intern at City Council. List of schools he hopes to attend include Harvard, Yale, and George Washington.
“Thanks to the NY Immigration Foundation, I am able to attend Hunter College … I will continue with the pursuit of my dreams. I am going to be a human rights lawyer, a congressman, and a United States senator. I’m a dreamer—perhaps I don’t have everything I wish I had right now—but I have hope, courage, and motivation to follow my dreams.”
Kymare Hutchinson, 22, John Jay College for Criminal Justice, Deviant and Culture Studies
-Born in Jamaica
-Internship: Arab American Association of New York
-Moved to America when 10. Pursuing certificate in dispute resolution.
“In high school, as I started to explore those opportunities, I started learning and understanding the limitations I would face, not because I don’t have what it takes to go far in life but because I am undocumented. Everything that I’ve done, all the sacrifices made by my mom, will all be for nothing because I don’t have papers. It doesn’t matter if I worked hard. Being a recipient of the DREAM Fellow Scholarship has been very encouraging for me. It has been a symbol of hope.”
Nataly Lopez, 21, CUNY Baruch College, Psychology of Language
-Born in Ecuador
-Internship: Cabrini Immigrant Services
-Moved to America when 4 years old, attended kindergarten through grade 12 in New York City. Hopes to finish bachelor’s degree, and later master’s degree and PhD.
“This is a dream in progress, like many in my position. Prior to being a DREAM fellow, I was taking one or two classes per semester. If lucky, I was able to be a full-time student. And I was working full-time at diners being a waitress, here and there tutoring English, a language that I actually really love … Our stories represent 65,000 students who are in the same position … We, everyone standing here today, we’re going to do everything we can to make this happen.”
Eduardo Resendiz, 21, Lehman College, Music
-Born in Mexico
-Internship: Mirabal Sister’s Cultural and Community Center
-Came to US when he was 15, graduated high school in New York and learned English here.
“My parents decided that moving to the United States would give my younger sister and me better chances for a more promising future than in Mexico … Thanks to the emotional and financial support of organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition and the DREAM Fellowship, undocumented students like myself and all of us standing here, we are able to find the hope that keeps us encouraged every day to overcome all of the adversity we face in our lives … and be one step closer to fulfilling our bigger dreams.”
Yelky Ramos, 20, Baruch College, Public Affairs
-Born in the Dominican Republic
-Internship: New York Immigration Coalition
-Two minors in journalism and real estate. Planning to apply to CUNY School of Law to be a Public Interest Lawyer.
“I was standing as the valedictorian of my class, and as I was giving my speech, I had no idea if I was going to be able to find the financial resources to afford a college education. When I was filling out my application, I heard my counselor say, ‘There’s a lot of great opportunities out there, but unfortunately you don’t have those nine digits that would allow you to apply for them.’ I was able to fundraise money for my first semester and, little by little, I completed a semester here and there with money from scholarships like the DREAM fellowship—and today I’m a senior graduating.
Thanks to this scholarship, I’ll be able to complete my last semester of my bachelor’s studies. It’s extremely hard to go to bed at night not knowing if you’re going to be able to one day practice what you’re studying. Sometimes I go to bed at night and I cry because I don’t know if tomorrow when I graduate, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do what I want to do. I hope to see more opportunities like this supporting my education and the education of others like myself. “
Trip to Albany to Push for Immigrants’ Rights
On March 14, thousands of people will go to Albany for the 15th annual Immigrants’ Day of Action. While there, they will push for the coalition’s top 10 priorities for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 budget and state policy for the upcoming year at the capitol.
The top three priorities:
1. Pushing the DREAM Act forward, which would allow undocumented immigrants who came to New York under the age of 16 to qualify for college grants.
2. Backing the newly formed Office for New Americans with funding for its citizenship and refugee programs.
3. Creating a clear separation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement so undocumented immigrants don’t have to fear deportation when they report crimes or commit misdemeanors.