When Yelky Ramos, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was filling out college applications, her counselor told her that she would have a rough time getting the scholarships she needed.
“My counselor said, ‘There’s a lot of great opportunities out there, but unfortunately, you don’t have those nine digits that would allow you to apply for them,'” recalled Ramos, who is now a senior at Baruch College pursuing a degree in public affairs.
“It is very hard being an undocumented student. It is extremely hard to go to bed at night not knowing if you’re going to be able to one day practice what you’re studying. Sometimes I go to bed at night and I cry, because I don’t know if tomorrow when I graduate I’ll be able to do what I want to do,” she said.
Ramos, speaking at an event yesterday afternoon at the New York Immigration Coalition, or NYIC, is one of ten New York City students who have received the DREAM Fellowship, a semester-long program that gives undocumented students scholarships to continue their education and places them in internships at immigrant advocacy groups in the city.
The organizations behind the fellowship — the NYIC, the Fund for Public Advocacy, the Korean American Community Foundation, and the office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio — used the announcement of the fellowship as an opportunity to promote state and federal legislation that would help undocumented students access scholarships and go to college.
Local pols have drafted a bill called the New York State Dream Act, which would open the state Tuition Assistance Program to all students, regardless of their immigration status. The proposal, which was introduced after a federal version died in the U.S. Senate, has the support of the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the Board of Regents.
Currently, students who call New York City home but don’t have their papers, can’t receive financial aid, making it very difficult for them to attend and complete college.
“As an American and a grandchild of immigrants myself, I’m offended that we even have to be standing here having this discussion. I think it is outrageous that these young people just want to do the right thing and are facing the burden they face,” said de Blasio, a likely mayoral candidate in 2013. “We all have to make up for the madness of our national policies by doing something at the local level.”
“I would like some of our friends in Washington D.C. to meet [these fellows]…and think of them as they would their own children,” he added. “Would you want your own children to have anything but the maximum opportunity, the maximum respect, the maximum chance to serve their country?”
Students in attendance told reporters that despite their hard work and achievements, they constantly live in fear that their immigration status could ruin everything.
“My mother, in her decision to immigrate to the U.S., took a risk for her children, so that we may have opportunities that she did not,” said Kymare Hutchinson, a 22-year-old senior at John Jay College for Criminal Justice who left Jamaica with her mother when she was 10 years old. She said she is “always being reminded that there’s a chance that everything that I have done, all the sacrifices made by my mom, will all be for nothing, because I don’t have papers.”
Yohan Garcia, 25, and a Hunter College student majoring in Political Science, said that, despite the obstacles of being undocumented, he’s not giving up.
“I will continue with the pursuit of my dreams. I am going to be a human rights lawyers, a congressman, and a United States senator,” said Garcia, a Mexican immigrant. “I’m a dreamer. Perhaps I don’t have everything…but I have hope, courage, and motivation to follow my dreams.”