Hundreds of young immigrants who attend Long Island high schools and colleges are expected to attend a conference Tuesday at the College at Old Westbury to discuss issues that affect them and further an advocacy agenda.
They call themselves "Dreamers," after various "Dream Act" bills that seek to grant full legal status at the federal level to those who were brought illegally to the United States as minors. Young immigrants who fall into this category also have pressed in New York and other states barriers to be removed that prevent them from pursuing a college education.
Their proposals have fallen short of support year after year, with broad immigration reform stalled at the national level and the defeat of state measures to provide tuition assistance.
"We are waiting for Congress, and the New York State Legislature is not in session right now, but we have time to organize our students and to gain support, so we are ready to fight," said Osman Canales, community organizer with Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates. "The mission is to educate leaders in our community to have them be advocates."
The First Conference for Immigrant Students, co-sponsored by Old Westbury's Hispanic/Latino Center, also seeks to present the difficulties many young immigrants face as they run into a dead end after a free high school education.
Though many are exempt from deportation under executive orders by President Barack Obama, they struggle to get a college education because their lack of legal status keeps them from receiving scholarships and tuition aid.
"We want to bring awareness to the rest of Long Island on the needs and the perils of this community," said Zenaida Madurka, an Old Westbury associate professor of modern languages who directs the Hispanic/Latino Center. "We are hoping . . . that if people are more aware and there's a human face to identify these problems, we hope there would be a change."
The conference will be held in the student union's multipurpose room. Morning sessions, starting at 8:30 a.m., will be largely devoted to nearly 400 students from 12 area high schools who are expected to attend. Sessions after 1 p.m. will be aimed at the public, invited to attend panels and presentations from area advocates and experts. The conference ends at 7 p.m.
"Dreamer" advocates Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, of the national Dream Action Coalition, will speak to students, organizers said. Andiola, of Phoenix, is known for mounting a successful social media campaign to have her mother and brother freed before being deported, following a 2013 home raid. Vargas, a Staten Island activist, in June became the first immigrant without legal status to be deemed eligible to be admitted to the New York bar. His application to become a lawyer is pending further review.