Students rally in support of DREAM billBy DAVE MARCUS
April 30, 2010
For years, Johhner Morales wanted to join the U.S. Army. Last year, after graduating from Freeport High School, he signed up. But he received a letter saying he'd been rejected because he had come to the United States from Colombia at age 7 without documents.
Morales, 22, joined 50 other students at Nassau Community College at a rally Thursday supporting a law that would offer a path to residency for immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally.
"This country has been wonderful to me, and I felt it would be an honor to serve," said Morales, who is studying at Nassau while waiting for another chance at the military.
The students called on politicians to support the DREAM Act, which would give six years of temporary residency to those "of good moral character." During those years they would need to complete at least two years of college or serve in the military. As residents, they could qualify for college financial aid and in-state tuition.
Introduced last year, the bill, called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and two prominent
Republicans, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and former Sen. Charles Hagel of Nebraska. Even supporters admit they see little likelihood of the legislation passing this year.
The immigration debate became more bitter last week after Arizona made it a state crime to be in the United States illegally and allowed police to question anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
"Those who love to hate, who love to divide us, are expressing their views in a very loud voice," Assemb. Charles D. Lavine (D-Glen Cove) told the students. He said the United States has already invested in the education of an estimated 65,000 immigrants who arrived as children without documents. "It costs infinitely more to have a permanent underclass" than to give illegal residents a chance at becoming college students, soldiers or taxpayers, he said.
Sarah Moeller, a coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, urged students to ask Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) to support the bill. But in a statement Thursday afternoon, King said he won't consider such legislation "until the borders are secure, and that looks to be a number of years in the future."
Students like Yesenia Reyes, 21, still hope for a change in Washington. Reyes arrived in Massapequa from Peru at age 15 and, like Morales, overstayed her visa.
"I'm asking for an opportunity to work here, help people and be a taxpayer," said Morales, who is studying nursing.