To the Editor,
On Feb. 18, state Sen. George Latimer became a co-sponsor for S2378, a bill called the New York State DREAM Act. In doing so, Latimer set the example for other elected officials to follow suit. This has helped to give my community of undocumented youth a voice after years of a silent local battle to pass this legislation and be recognized for our daily efforts and contributions as young leaders living in Westchester County and beyond.
The NYS DREAM Act would allow students to access New York’s Tuition Assistance Program. As New York State residents, we are all paying into the TAP fund, yet a portion of intellectually adept individuals have been denied the right to access these funds because of the status and label we are given.
To many, this legislation appears to be a handout for a community classified as “undeserving.” What many do not know or make known is DREAMers, as we identify ourselves, contribute daily to our local economies. Many of us pursue higher education at full cost to public institutions, work locally and represent these neighborhoods beyond local boundaries in our advocacy and academic pursuits.
President Obama enacted an executive order he called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, when comprehensive immigration reform was stalled. It gave us a temporary status allowing us to obtain a working permit and, at least in New York State, driver’s licenses.
Again, our contributions are coming to light, we comply with work laws and we contribute like all other employees getting deductions for public funds from their paychecks. We also pursue higher education and fill job scarcities in a multitude of fields. We are resilient, creative and possess the ability to make this country even better.
We learned from the power and successes of movements before us and we embraced the art of organizing in order to defend our rights and protect our families. We carefully selected individuals to inspire us and guide us in developing our strategies. We have demonstrated time and again we are ready and capable of effectively leading a movement required to better ourselves and society. Indeed, we rose up to the need for leadership and have far surpassed all expectations.
We have earned our right to demand the NYS DREAM Act be passed. We need to be appropriately represented by our elected officials. Had we been given the voice and representation we deserved, the legislation would have passed two years ago when it was first introduced.
Latimer’s co-sponsorship of the bill has brought us slightly closer to achieving the representation we need, but it is not enough. We need more support.
Through this victory, we hope other politicians will take the time to look beyond the misconceptions about our community and give credit to our current and potential contributions. We are a large community of intellectual and caring individuals who seek to remove the barriers of oppression. Our backgrounds and stories do not make us weak. We draw strength and determination from our experiences.
Allowing us access to an entitlement benefit we are paying into is the right thing to do; after all, we wouldn’t be the first group of people to demand we not be taxed without proper representation. The time is now.
Kevin E. Duarte Chon,