NEW YORK -- On Monday, April 23, at St. Teresa’s Church in Manhattan, members of diverse faith communities gathered with DREAMers and community leaders to hold an interfaith press conference highlighting the urgency of passing New York State DREAM legislation.
The event was organized by the New York State DREAM Coalition, a diverse partnership of youth, community, labor, and faith organizations that has been advocating for passage of New York State DREAM legislation to allow access to state-funded tuition assistance for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.
New York’s faith and community leaders called passage of New York State DREAM legislation a moral imperative and in the public interest, emphasizing that empowering youth to succeed in their education is the right thing to do and helps the state prosper—not only economically, but also by upholding a vibrant culture of justice and opportunity for all.
With the Supreme Court hearing arguments this week on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, New York’s faith and community leaders maintain that New York can provide a welcome counterpoint to Arizona’s divisive and destructive path by promoting laws that benefit immigrant communities and serve the common good.
“Two days before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments about the legality of SB 1070, Arizona's unjust immigration law, faith community leaders have organized this press conference to send a message to Albany lawmakers: You have a moral choice to make,” said Diane Steinman, Director, NYS Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform. “You can pass the New York State Dream Act and take a stand for justice, compassion and opportunity for all New York youth. Or you can fail to act, and block the road to success for some based solely on immigration status, cruelly denying them the chance to follow their dreams and help build the America of tomorrow. And so we say to Albany: do the right thing. Pass the Dream Act!”
Framing the argument from both a personal and moral perspective was Pastor Omar Almonte from Central Baptist Church in Brooklyn: "I recently marched with immigrants in Alabama to protest its SB1070 copycat law that is destroying immigrant lives and families - and I was struck by how important it would be for my own State of New York to repudiate the cruel injustice in Arizona and Alabama by passing the New York State Dream Act, so all young immigrants are given the opportunity to go to college and follow their Dreams.”
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs shared their support for New York State DREAM legislation with faith and community leaders.
“All young people should have the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education” says Fatima Shama, Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “The Bloomberg Administration supports making college more financially accessible and creating legalization pathways for undocumented students. We must open educational pathways to further support undocumented students and allow them to reach their full potential, and contribute to the growth and vitality of the economy of our state."
Standing beside faith leaders were inspiring youth themselves.
Yohan Garcia, a student at Hunter College and New York Immigration Coalition DREAM Fellow, said “If the New York Dream Act passes, I will have more opportunities to achieve my professional education faster; therefore I will be able to contribute a lot more to my community and to the nation. My dream is to become a United States Senator. Students like me, who are studying and working hard in order to achieve our goals, deserve the opportunity to be able to afford to go to college.”
"New York State can send a powerful message by passing the NY DREAM Act and DREAM Fund and provide students like myself the resources to be able to pay for college. It will also increase the amount of people of color and underrepresented in college,” said Antonio Alarcon, high school student and youth leader at Make the Road NY.
New York legislators added their support for this important legislation.
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez expressed her support for the passage of the New York DREAM Act.
"New York has always been and must remain a gateway to opportunity for all who seek it. The DREAM Act will allow New York to take the lead in a place where the federal government so far hasn't," said State Senator Daniel Squadron, the original co-sponsor of the legislation. "It's time to ensure that every young person who wants to work hard and better our society has the chance to do so."
State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, the original co-sponsor of NY DREAM legislation, also made his remarks.
In addition, immigrant advocates spoke of the tireless efforts of New York DREAMers and advocates to push this legislation.
“DREAMers and advocates in New York have pushed their legislators hard for many months to make New York state DREAM legislation a reality,” said Jackie Vimo, director of advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition.
“Young people in this state are mobilized, they are eager to pursue their education and invest in this state that is their home. Their dreams are supported by the faith community, the labor community, legislators, education officials, and community advocates! As part of the NY State DREAM Coalition, the New York Immigration Coalition is committed to seeing NY DREAM legislation pass this year. We call on our legislators to do what is right,” said Vimo.
Standing in unity, a diverse interfaith coalition spoke of New York’s moral obligation to its young people.
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director of Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition expressed his support for NY DREAM legislation.
“Jewish tradition is ethically insistent on the need to stand with the most vulnerable in society, to provide for the basic rights of all--including the right to a decent education and to a future of security and full potential for its youth,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition. “For that reason the Jewish call to support the NYS DREAM Act is clear."
Msgr. Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities also made his remarks in support of the NY DREAM Act.
“Basic fairness coupled with sound economics tells us to make good investments in the future workforce of New York,” said Msgr. Sullivan, executive director, Catholic Charities. “DREAMERS want nothing more than to develop their talents in this country and state – the only one they know and call home. All they are asking is to be afforded the opportunity of higher education. Expanding TAP for DREAMERS continues New York’s legacy as a gateway of opportunity and invests in our State’s economic future.”
"According to Islamic tradition, every person is entitled from God to have a dignified, honorable life including provision of the basic need that sustains life such as food, drink, clothing, shelter, family, education, income, and safety. In addition, my great expectation from great nations such as the United States of America is to provide such a life for every person who lives on this blessed land. I believe we are capable of doing that. I am in support of NYS DREAM Act,” said Imam Samer Alraey.
Members of the labor community also expressed their support.
“The DREAMers just want what all driven students in America want: an opportunity to go to college, to make a difference, to become our country’s future doctors, scientists and business owners,” said Jorge Cabrera, member of 32BJ.