Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand/A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand/Glows world-wide welcome ….”
Those words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 and seared in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty, have long embodied New York City’s commitment to embracing immigrants of all backgrounds. Indeed, Liberty’s torch carries with it a promise to all who come to these shores — not immediate riches or a life without struggle and hardship, but rather a chance to develop one’s talents to the fullest and be treated with equality, dignity and respect.
It is this promise that has fueled the growth of New York City and America as a whole for centuries, but today we are falling short of our promise.
Current law bars undocumented youth from securing federal financial aid for college. While comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is essential to keep our promise to these young people and to power our economic growth, there are concrete steps we can take in New York that will embrace our progressive heritage and bring us closer to making the dream of opportunity for all a reality.
The state Assembly, under the leadership of Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), included $25 million in its budget to implement the New York DREAM Act, which extends state financial aid opportunities to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. While the NY DREAM Act was not included in the final budget proposal, we urge the state Legislature to pass this landmark legislation this year.
The need for a college-educated workforce in our state has never been greater. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require some postsecondary education. These jobs promise to provide true, middle-class wages — an additional $25,000 a year for jobs requiring a college degree.
But while a recent survey found that 39 percent of teenagers are interested in starting a business, the sad truth is many young people lack the technical skills and training they need to succeed in this new economy. We should be embracing the entrepreneurial spirit of our young people, not shutting the golden door of opportunity to hardworking youth determined to succeed.
By passing the DREAM Act, we will enable thousands of young people throughout New York to access higher education, improve their lives and contribute to our city, state and nation. The diversity of our communities is a powerful force for economic growth, and by passing the DREAM Act we would be harnessing it as never before.
We are fighting so these first-generation Americans — the future innovators and entrepreneurs of the Empire State — can go to college and follow their dreams.
We are fighting for the economic advancement of all New York communities that will benefit from having a 21st-century workforce prepared to handle the complex challenges of an increasingly interconnected global economy.
And we are fighting to remain true to the promise of the torch, the idea that all people, no matter where they come from or where they are heading, will be welcome in the five boroughs and throughout the Empire State.
If we are to truly honor Lazarus’ inspiring words, we must give these young people every opportunity to develop their talents, put down roots and contribute to the fabric of our communities.