NEW YORK, NY — Hundreds of young people made their way to St. Mary’s Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Wednesday to avail of the day-long orientation workshop and free legal clinic offered by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), the New York State Immigrant Action Fund (NYSIAF), and the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) for potential applicants of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new deferred action policy.In June, President Obama made a historic announcement that DHS would provide relief from deportation for certain young people who were brought to the United States as children. Those who meet the eligibility requirements will receive deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.
To make the most of this significant new policy and ensure that as many eligible New Yorkers as possible benefit from it, the NYIC and the NYSI have launched the New York State DREAM Legal Services Network. Their purpose was to bring together community-based organizations, immigrant legal services groups and law firms to provide free legal assistance to individuals navigating the application process.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that as many as 1.76 million people nationally could be eligible for deferred action and 110,000 people in New York State alone.
At St. Mary’s Church in New York, young people waited in anticipation to meet with legal service providers to review eligibility requirements. At a press conference earlier in the day, DREAMers stood with community organizations, advocates, and government officials to speak about the deferred action process and the importance the day held for them.
“This has been a long time coming! Special thanks to the DREAMers who put themselves on the line, and all those who moved the President to take action in the face of Congressional paralysis,” said Ms. Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “And what a joy it is to mobilize our resources and energy for something positive, after so many years of having to defend against one destructive policy after another. Today we embark on a road to deferred action, work authorization, and the ability of eligible young people to pursue their dreams in the country they call home. Let’s hope this is the first step to the kinds of reform our country, and our communities, so desperately need.”
Max Ahmed was among the hundreds of DREAMers who signed up for legal services at the clinic. He said, “I am currently a senior studying chemical engineering at the City College of New York. Deferred Action will grant some stability for me and over a million young people like me. This policy grants me more than a permit to work or to live here. It allows me to now pursue my dream of contributing to the city and to the country. I want to work on today’s energy problems through my degree in chemical engineering.”
“I always thought of myself as an American, but because I lacked certain papers I lived with a constant fear of deportation,” said Emily Park, a DREAMer and youth organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, Queens. “Today, we thank President Obama for providing DREAMers like me with this chance to request Deferred Action and work authorization. We will be vigilant in ensuring that this policy is implemented. We also urge Congress to build upon this action to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act to provide a path to citizenship and achieve broader justice for our communities.”
High school students were among the people getting ready to apply for deferred action that day. Diana Eusebio, a high school student eligible for deferred action and an active member of the NYS Youth Leadership Council, commented, “The NYSYLC has reached more than 1,000 members of our community in these last eight weeks to educate them about deferred action. We are committed to continuing to work around the clock to ensure that everyone who can, benefits from this policy. As a future college student, I will be able to work to pursue my dreams of higher education and help my family and community. Deferred Action is one small step in the right direction and we continue to urge our Congress members to push for the DREAM Act in this legislative session which will give undocumented youth more than just a temporary solution.”
“The New York State Immigrant Action Fund (NYSIAF) is proud to be partnering with the New York Immigration Coalition and its member groups to provide the necessary support for DREAMers in this exciting time,” said May Chen, President of the New York State Immigrant Action Fund. “Undocumented youth in New York and across the country have worked hard to have their voices heard, and this has resulted in the deferred action policy, a step in the right direction to provide much needed relief for these talented individuals. This is why NYSIAF has partnered with the Coalition to launch the New York State DREAM Legal Services Network to continue to provide important legal service support for DREAMers.”
DREAMers were also joined by Congresswomen Nydia M. Velazquez and Yvette D. Clark, Fatima Shama, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Congresswoman Velázquez reiterated her support by saying, “Young people who came here as children often have known no other country than this one. It is the correct and moral thing to allow them to stay here.”
“This great nation, a nation of hardworking immigrants, suffers when good students from our communities are prevented from reaching their full potential. We are all deprived of a better future when we force our young people to grow up in immigration limbo,” said Congresswoman Clarke. “These young people, from all over the world, have wanted nothing more than to fully participate in their adoptive nation without the threat of deportation or repercussion for a decision that was not their own. Their dedication to improving their lives and serving their adopted country are great examples of ideal Americans. To deny young people the very opportunities that we as citizens often take for granted is shameful. That is why I promise to work towards the success of the deferred action program and to use the momentum of its success to inspire new debate on comprehensive immigration reform.”
“Young immigrants are an important part of the fabric of New York City”, said Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “We will continue to support our immigrant New Yorkers by ensuring they have access to the documents needed to apply so that they get every opportunity to pursue their dreams and contribute to the City and country they call home.”
“New York State is the only state government in the nation with a comprehensive plan to ensure eligible youth in New York can take full advantage of this positive change in federal immigration rules, while protecting them from fraud,” said Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales. “We are pleased to be partnering with immigration service providers, advocates, private sector and the federal and local governments to coordinate a response to help thousands of young people take full advantage of this new opportunity. I encourage New Yorkers to visit www.nysdeferredaction.ny.gov to learn about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and to sign up for an information session or free legal consultation event.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “Immigrants are a vital part of New York City’s life, culture, and economy. Deferred Action gives immigrant families a sense of safety and opens up avenues for employment and education. We applaud President Obama for this decision to make our nation a little more welcoming, and to take a first step towards passing the DREAM act.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expressed his support for today’s inaugural event, saying, “Deferred action is a profoundly humane policy for hundreds of thousands of young people who know no other home than the United States and who live in perpetual fear of deportation,” said Silver. “This legal service initiative by the New York Immigration Coalition is exactly what the Assembly had in mind when it fought to include in the state budget funding to inform immigrant communities about this new federal policy. These efforts will help young people to ultimately pursue an education, develop careers and provide for themselves and their families.”
Eagerly anticipating their appointments with legal service providers, several more DREAMers expressed the importance of the day to them.
Yohan Garcia, a CUNY Hunter College student, said, “I personally receive this day to apply for deferred action with joy, great hopes, and relief. It is certainly a glorious day for Dreamers, the immigrant community, and immigration advocates. This new policy is the first step towards addressing our broken immigration system, but the fight doesn’t end here. We will continue to fight for the passage of the Dream Act and for overall immigration reform to help our families and communities.”
“This historic policy change shows the power of DREAMers; we have worked hard to advocate for our right to live and work in this country that we call home,” said Carlos Vargas of DRM Capital Group. “By applying for deferred action today, I’m taking the first step to fulfilling my dreams. I am proud of all my fellow DREAMers who have fought for what we believe in.”