During a mayoral candidates’ forum at Hostos Community College sponsored by El Diario-La Prensa, Telemundo NY and the Hispanic Federation, the possibility of a city ID for undocumented immigrants stirred the first cheers of delight from the audience. Democratic candidates Rev. Erick Salgado and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio have been pushing for the initiative.
However, Democrats Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn also put forth some of the new proposals revealed during the forum.
Bill Thompson supports a municipal version of the Dream Act, since passing it at the national and state levels hasn’t produced results. His bill – called Big Apple-Big Dreams – would help cover the cost of college tuition for young “dreamers,” undocumented students in New York City.
“The funds would be distributed in the same amount as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), at $5,000 per student,” Thomson told El Diario-La Prensa before the forum. TAP is the financial aid that the federal government provides to eligible students so they can pay for college.
Even if the current immigration reform bill gets passed, Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition, believes Thompson’s initiative would help “dreamers” since students would have to wait at least five years before being able to qualify for any type of government assistance.
From another perspective, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn promised to expand legal aid for undocumented New Yorkers to avoid further deportations and breaking up families.
“The idea is to provide more opportunities for legal representation without taking anything away from the aid programs that already exist,” Quinn said in a prior interview.
Quinn’s plan includes ensuring universal representation for deportation cases, bringing legal aid to public schools for immigrant students, and creating a legal team called NYC Legal Corp, which would increase the number of qualified immigration experts.
Both Thompson’s and Quinn’s proposals respond to the needs brought up by local organizations.
For María Navarro, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, bringing legal aid to the school system is something her organization has tried to do.
“The law has a provision for undocumented youth under the age of 21 to obtain a green card. We have been trying to obtain funding to branch out to the public schools because there are many students who age out and don’t know it.”
Vimo said that expanding legal aid is critical.
“Many people try to take advantage of others with immigration reform,” she said, adding that it is necessary to include lawyers who are not trained to deal with immigration issues.
When Quinn was asked why she isn’t currently pushing for legal aid since she is an elected official, she replied that doing so now would take up a lot of time.
“We’re already working on some issues,” she said, and pointed to allocating funds “for legal representation and the GED for dreamers. Those are some of the priorities on the budget right now,” she explained.