By Phil Corso
Chasing her dream has become a nightmare.
Emily Park is a case of why state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) pledged to support the state DREAM Act Friday.
The full-scholarship biology major at Queens College already earned a degree in neuroscience, but could not afford the leap to graduate school due to a roadblock barring her from financial aid. Park, 23, spoke inside the MinKown Center for Community Action at 136-19 41st Ave. in Flushing to support the DREAM Act, which would provide equal access to higher education for children of undocumented immigrants. The bill focuses on children who came to America as minors at least five years ago and have earned a high school degree.
“I believe this legislation could lead to a better quality of life for students like me,” Park said. “It could help the state, too, when we could contribute back to society in the future during our working lives.”
Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the country.
Lancman, a sponsor of the bill, pointed to Congress for failing to pass a similar one on the national level. What sets it apart from the federal DREAM Act, Lancman said, was that it did not set out to provide citizenship to undocumented immigrants, which is a federal issue.
“The federal government completely failed to address this issue,” Lancman said. “While we wait for Congress, New York must make some young people have that opportunity for both their interests and ours.”
The sharp critique of the federal government was echoed within the New York Dream Coalition pledge that Lancman had signed on to at the Friday news conference. The pledge contended Congress had “failed America” by not passing the federal DREAM Act in 2010, and Lancman’s signature signified his support of the state legislation.
“I’m only here because of the educational opportunities that were made available to me,” Lancman said. “At the heart of the American Dream is equal access to education.”
Members of the Korean-American community action center, which also announced the beginning of the Dare to Dream campaign to push forward the legislation, joined the assemblyman. MinKwon Executive Director Steven Choi said various elected official visits would help the group raise awareness and support for the bill.
“We’re fighting to push and pass legislation and give students a pathway to their dreams,” Choi said. “We are proud to be joined by Assemblyman Lancman for the start of our campaign.”
Choi added that there were still more than 100 assemblymen and close to a dozen senators who have yet to sign on to the bill.
“What a shame it is for the state of New York,” Lancman said, when recognizing the difficulties faced by undocumented students who he said were being “excluded” from the educational system.
MinKwon Advocacy and Organizing Associate Christina Chang said the group was circulating petitions addressed to state officials and visiting local schools and churches to educate young people on how the DREAM Act could help them and their neighbors.
Chang said the group has already acquired 600 signatures and plans on reaching as many as 2,000 by the end of March.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.