And for those like Gomez who come from Mexico, it's certain to be a long line at that. She has been told the process could take decades.

In 2010, the federal DREAM Act was blocked by a 56-43 Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. Reintroduced last spring, it would allow undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children to jump the line to citizenship, either by earning a college degree or serving in the military for two years.

Critics of the federal bill believe it would reward and encourage illegal behavior, worsen the country's immigration woes, and be a drain on state- and federal-funded financial-aid programs.

DREAM Act protests have included sit-ins at Congressional offices.
Larry Marano
DREAM Act protests have included sit-ins at Congressional offices.
Alulema: New York bill is a “Band-Aid.”
Alulema: New York bill is a “Band-Aid.”

"We view [the DREAM Act] as an amnesty, and we're opposed to rewarding illegal behavior through amnesty," says Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "The problem is that we have a finite amount of money for public education. At the higher-education level, it's being cut dramatically in almost every state."

Supporters, however, believe the DREAM Act could actually strengthen the U.S. economy: Once armed with a college degree and a green card, these students could go on to earn more money (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, college grads earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with just a high school degree), spend more money, and pay higher taxes.

Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, a Democrat and the prime Assembly sponsor of the New York DREAM Act, says that once enough undocumented students are educated, it only makes sense to allow them to work and contribute to society.

The first Dominican-born elected official in the United States, Linares immigrated to America at the age of 15 not knowing a word of English. He was able to put himself through City College by driving a taxi, and he later earned his doctorate from Teachers College at Columbia University. His parents were in this country undocumented for two years and worked in the garment industry on the Lower East Side after overstaying their visas until they were finally granted green cards.

The NYSYLC hopes that the New York DREAM Act will be passed in Albany this June, but first, public support from Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Republican leaders is needed. So far, Cuomo has stayed quiet. The governor's office failed to return phone calls requesting comment on the legislation.

Supporters argue that even without the federal bill, the New York DREAM Act would give undocumented youth a taste of something they have been desperate for: a sense of empowerment and dignity. Citizenship can be granted or denied; a visa can be issued and then expire; but once paid for, an education is lasting.

"What we're hearing from kids is, 'You can't take my education away from me, you can't take my dignity away from me, you can't take my drive," notes Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Although Gomez still works at a factory for minimum wage, her employer recently recognized her skills and gave her a desk job entering data. It's a long way from her dream of one day teaching, but it's a position she's willing to accept given the current laws.

"I've thought about going to Canada or Spain or places like that, but at the end of the day, this is my home, this is where I've grown up all my life," Gomez says. "There is work to be done in the United States, and we as undocumented youth are taking that approach to change immigration laws."

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