Last week, Congress began debating federal immigration reform. But here in New York there's something that our state legislators can do right now to stand up for immigrants: Pass the New York State DREAM Act.
I'm a 17-year-old senior at Valley Stream South High School. I am an undocumented student, also referred to as a DREAMer because I would be eligible for the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
I came here when I was 2. The stereotypes of immigrant youth or immigrants are just that: stereotypes. I did not come by car, and I did not cross a border by foot. I am not Hispanic. I arrived on a plane; I'm Jamaican.
While the federal DREAM Act focuses on citizenship, the New York State DREAM Act would allow undocumented students with good grades and low family income to get state-funded financial aid through the Tuition Assistance Program to go to college in New York. Students like me could then get a degree and contribute fully to our state's economy.
I've worked very hard throughout high school. I'm involved in advanced placement classes, I'm a part of the National Language and Athletic Honors Society, and I run track. I participate in community service through Key Club and my church, and I've maintained a 3.5 grade-point average.
In these last months of high school, I've been accepted to 15 out of the 16 colleges to which I have applied. But without financial aid I won't be able to attend any of them. While President Barack Obama's "deferred action" policy has protected me from deportation, I need the NY DREAM Act to help pay for college.
Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to be a doctor. I was never one of those whose aspirations changed a million times. I still want to, and will, be a doctor.
My mom has always supported my dreams -- which is why she brought me to the United States. She's a single mom who pays state and federal income taxes and works extremely hard to give me everything I need. She keeps hoping that something will happen to help me and other undocumented students get access to financial aid for college.
The State Senate co-leader, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), has visited my school, which is in his district. This shows he cares about education. So I don't understand why he has not yet supported the state DREAM Act. While the Assembly included the DREAM Act in its budget proposal, the Senate (which Skelos co-leads) failed to do the same and has not taken action.
I have never been able to share my story personally with Sen. Skelos, nor do I know if he is aware that students like me, who have been here almost all of our lives and want to become productive citizens of the state, can't get financial aid for college.
But if I had the opportunity to speak to him, I would tell him that if the New York DREAM Act passes and I can get tuition assistance, this August I will start college and begin my journey toward becoming a doctor. Otherwise, I won't get to attend Stony Brook University or any of the other prestigious schools where I've been accepted.
Passing the state DREAM Act is not an immigration issue -- it's an education issue. DREAMers like me, and there are thousands on Long Island, usually work twice as hard. We strive to be the best so we can become the first in our families to go to college. This effort should be recognized. We are just asking for support to go to school.
My only hope is that Sen. Skelos and the other legislators who have the power to make this bill a reality understand that all we want is to fulfill our aspirations here, where we live and grew up. All I'm asking is to be able to serve my community through medicine. Give me the opportunity to study, and in return I will give all my strength, hard work and heart to be the best doctor I can be.
Destiny Thompson, a senior at Valley Stream South High School, is a member of Make the Road New York, a grassroots immigrants' rights organization.