Suarez: Talented young people need the Dream Act

Brentwood High School student Marcy Suarez spoke to Newsday about her experience as an undocumented immigrant. "All that makes us different is our citizenship status," she said. "Everything else is the same." (Mar. 6, 2014) Videojournalist: Sam Guzik

I began my American education as a second-grader in 2003. That first school year in the United States, at Oak Park Elementary School in Brentwood, was difficult.

As someone who was brought here illegally from Honduras, I was trying to learn a new language and working to fit in despite my disability (I am missing one of my hands). But that battle only made me stronger. Today, I earn high grades at Brentwood High School and participate in my community.

But no matter how strong I've become, how well I do in school or how much I give back to my community, it is not enough to be considered a citizen. And federal immigration reform efforts to help students like me, and our parents, become U.S. citizens have stalled indefinitely in Congress.


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In the meantime, I just want to go to college. But I may not be able to unless the State Senate supports the Dream Act, which would allow students like me who meet in-state tuition requirements to receive state financial aid and scholarships for college. It would make 529 tuition savings accounts available for people who are here without legal status, and create a commission to raise private funds for scholarships for students like me.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would sign the bill, which was recently approved by the Assembly. But for the second year in a row, the State Senate has refused to take up the legislation. So I urge Senate leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) to approve the Dream Act and give me and others an opportunity at a college education.

If enacted, the measure would allow high school graduates without legal status to apply for the state Tuition Assistance Program, improving our chances of making it to college. New York would become the fourth state to offer financial assistance to college students who entered the United States without authorization.

The local organization I volunteer with has met repeatedly with my state senator, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), in the past two years. Like all of Long Island's senators, Zeldin has not supported the Dream Act. He said not enough of his constituents support the legislation.

Sen. Zeldin, I too am your constituent. I have spoken with scores of my neighbors, and they support this bill. I need you to stand with students like me. Sen. Skelos -- the state's highest-ranking Republican -- should work with Sen. Klein to get the legislation approved this year.

My dream is to become a speech-language pathologist and help people find their voices. But I can't do that without a college degree, which I can't earn without financial aid. It is devastating to be denied such help.

Some state lawmakers, including Skelos, say they oppose the use of state funds for undocumented immigrants. But as a study last year by the state comptroller shows, the measure would benefit New York because a better-educated workforce would benefit the state economy.

By helping Dreamers go to college and pursue our careers, lawmakers would help us earn higher salaries, which means we would pay more in state taxes.

The Assembly has played its part -- twice. Now it's the Senate's turn. Sens. Skelos and Klein: Work together to approve the New York Dream Act and help make the dreams of students like me come true.

Marcy Suarez is a Brentwood High School student and youth member of Make the Road New York, an advocacy group.

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