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Letters: 2 sides of Dream Act debate

People attend a Brentwood rally and the launch

People attend a Brentwood rally and the launch of New York's leg of the national Keeping Families Together bus tour, which will take immigrants nationwide to Washington to call for fair and real immigration reform that protects families who otherwise risk separation. (March 10, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

I am a heart surgeon at Stony Brook University Medical Center. I am also a professor of surgery, deputy chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery and the co-director of the Stony Brook Heart Institute.

I was also formerly in the country illegally.

I support the passage of the New York State Dream Act -- short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors -- so that New York's non-citizen students, like Destiny Thompson can have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, just like I did.

Fleeing the poverty of Medellín, Colombia, my parents came to the United States on tourist visas in the 1970s. To reunite our family, they hired a smuggler to bring my brother and me into the country. In October 1978, we risked our lives in a small boat that crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach America.

I attended school and integrated into the American way of life. However, I faced a roadblock when it came time to apply for college -- I didn't have a Social Security number and couldn't apply for financial aid or loans for higher education.

With the help of my parents, I eventually obtained a counterfeit green card and attended Princeton University, where I obtained a degree in molecular biology. I funded my education through hard work and scholarships.

I then continued to Harvard Medical School, where I studied to become a heart surgeon, earning my medical degree in 1993.

In 2001, I joined the cardiothoracic surgical team at St. Francis Hospital, where I performed 300 to 400 heart surgeries every year. I joined Stony Brook late last year as co-director of the Heart Institute.

It was fortunate that when I met with an immigration judge in 1986, I had letters of support from President Ronald Reagan, and Gov. Thomas Kean and Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey. I had shown that I wanted to be a part of the American dream, and was treated with compassion. In addition to being the land of the brave, America is the land of humanity, compassion and second opportunities for those who want to be here, work hard and become citizens.

I strongly support practical and compassionate immigration reform so that other families, children and young adults can live in America with dignity, and so that they may contribute to the welfare of our beautiful country.

Harold Fernandez, Stony Brook

I am opposed to the Dream Act. I don't think it is fair that immigrants here illegally will have a better opportunity of going to college or a higher level of education, while there are citizens like me who can't afford college and can't get any federal funding from the government.

I think the government should be more concerned about the people who are here legally, and are still held back because of the simple fact that we can't make enough money to afford these expensive universities and colleges. I'm in no way blaming children who were brought here illegally by their parents, because it's not their fault. However it is not our fault that we also can't afford schooling.

It's unfair to all that we have to start our lives up to our necks in debt over paying for school. Government should put its citizens first, or better yet, make college affordable for everyone.

Nicholle McGuigan, West Hempstead