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NY immigrant advocates push 'equality agenda'

New York immigrant advocates unveiled an "equality agenda" Monday, saying state funds are needed to help children who came to the United States as unaccompanied minors and requesting legislative changes to aid immigrant college students and workers living here illegally.

Members of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization for more than 200 groups, held simultaneous news conferences in Hempstead, Manhattan and White Plains asking state political leaders to back their proposals.

"There's a lot of focus in the media about immigrant rights in Washington, but a lot of the advances that we see around the country are not coming through the do-nothing Congress in D.C. They are coming in state capitols, and we need New York State to catch up," said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead.

The advocates are taking a cue from action in California, Maryland, Washington and Illinois, where recent efforts yielded driver's licenses and changes allowing in-state tuition or financial aid for immigrants in college.

State-level reforms, they said, are needed to cover the increased number of immigrants who are exempt from deportation through President Barack Obama's executive orders.

In addition, more funding would help to educate and assist unaccompanied minors who arrived in the past several years, Young and others said.

Long Island received more than 3,000 of those children in the 12 months ended in November, out of about 5,900 who resettled in New York during that period.

Gabriela Castillo, an attorney with the immigrant women's group SEPA Mujer in Central Islip, called for "sufficient funding to address those immediate needs" of school districts affected by the influx of children and "to ensure that the children have adequate representation and assistance as their case makes its way through the immigration judicial process."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has backed a New York Dream Act providing tuition aid to immigrants, but his office did not comment Monday on the larger advocacy agenda. Neither did Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Valley Stream) joined immigrant advocates at their Hempstead event.

"In New York State right now we have a beautiful lady in the harbor that says 'Give us your hungry, give us your sick,' and we have to make sure that we take these children and harbor them and make them good Americans," Solages, the child of Haitian immigrants, said referring to the Statue of Liberty.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., is against programs benefiting immigrants in the United States illegally. He said state programs come "at the expense of services and funding" for residents and citizens.

"I don't imagine New York has a lot of extra money lying around," Mehlman said.

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