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Immigration Coalition and Fund for Public Advocacy Introduce the Recipients of the 2013 DREAM Fellowship


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Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x235,  E-mail: tyaku@thenyic.org
New York City  (Monday, April 29, 2013)

Immigration Coalition and Fund for Public Advocacy Introduce the Recipients of the 2013 DREAM Fellowship

   2013 Fellows Face a Landscape Changed by DACA and the Prospect of Immigration Reform

 Today, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the Fund for Public Advocacy held a press conference to introduce the 2013 participants in the DREAM Fellowship Program, a semester-long leadership development and internship program that provides college scholarships to undocumented students who demonstrate exceptional commitment to community engagement. During the semester, the fellows take part in a leadership training program run by the NYIC and hold internships at NYIC’s diverse member organizations, providing them the opportunity to gain hands-on advocacy experience . The fellowship program began in February.

This year’s cohort of fourteen students started their fellowship six months after President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program went into effect, providing temporary relief from deportation and work permits for eligible undocumented youth. All the fellows but one qualify for deferred action; one is not eligible because she arrived in the US four months after her sixteenth birthday—the cut-off age for DACA. Regardless of DACA eligibility, none of the students who received scholarships are eligible for federal or state financial aid.

[Top left to right] Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of NYIC; Karen Kaminsky, deputy executive director of NYIC; Thanu Yakupitiyage, DREAM Fellowship coordinator; DREAM Fellows Hina Naveed, Monia Sibri, Mehdi Mahraoui, Tanling Tsao, Daniel Yang, and Fund for Public Advocacy executive director, Paula Gavin. [Bottom left to right] DREAM Fellows Ivy Teng Lei, Susan Lema, Maria Vera, and Alondra Ramos.

While barriers remain for undocumented youth with or without DACA, the 2013 fellowship comes at a time of real movement on immigration reform. Several of the fellows have travelled to Washington D.C or met locally with members of Congress to share their families’ stories and press for immigration reform that keeps their families intact. They have travelled to Albany to push for state DREAM legislation. Together with last year’s cohort of ten DREAM fellows, this year’s fellow are taking on leadership roles in the Coalition’s ongoing efforts to pass reform on the federal level and in advocating for the New York State DREAM Act.

Introducing the fellows, Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition said, “We’re seeing new opportunity opening up because of DACA, but until the president signs a comprehensive immigration reform bill into law and the governor signs a bill to expand tuition assistance to undocumented youth, the DREAM Fellowship program provides critical support that allows these accomplished young people to pursue their education and further develop the leadership skills they have already demonstrated. I am proud of this new class of fellows; they are working hard to achieve their educational and career goals, to live up to the hopes and expectations of their parents, and to give back to the community and the country they call home.”

[Photo Above] Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition introduces the DREAM Fellowship program and its fellows.

The fourteen fellows hail from nine countries— China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan. They are studying criminal justice, law, and political science; pysychology, sociology, and social work; nursing; mathematics, finance, economics, and actuarial science; public administration, corporate communications, architecture and linguistics.

The Fund for Public Advocacy continued their financial support to make the second year of the DREAM Fellowship possible. “The Fund for Public Advocacy is proud to support the DREAM Program and the outstanding individuals selected for the program. Our country's future depends on great leadership and the commitment as well as determination of our DREAM students makes their future our priority,” said Paula Gavin, executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy.

[Photo Above] Paula Gavin, executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy speaks about their support for the program.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a key supporter of the DREAM Fellowship from its conception, also attended the press conference to express his support for the fellows. He said, "These young people deserve the same chance as any of their peers. It's an injustice that the doors of higher education are too often closed to them. I am so proud the Fund for Public Advocacy and New York Immigration Coalition stepped forward to right this wrong and brought together the resources to invest in these students. This class of DREAMers represents what's best in New York City, and investing in them will help our entire city succeed.”

[Photo Above] Public Advocate Bill de Blasio expresses his support for the DREAM Fellowship program.

The DREAM Fellows introduced themselves and shared their stories of resilience in the face of barriers, highlighting their eagerness to contribute their talents to New York and to the country.

[Left to Right] DREAM Fellows Alondra Ramos, SungMo (Daniel) Yang, and Hina Naveed tell their stories.

Alondra Ramos, a talented architecture student studying at New York City College of Technology, moved to New York from Arizona to have better opportunities to pursue her education. She said, “I came to the United States from Mexico with my family at age 10 and I lived with them in Arizona until I was 17 years old. Life in Arizona was becoming increasingly difficult; we lived with fear of deportation everyday due to the authorities’ increasing interest of incarcerating anyone who seemed the slightest bit suspicious. Due to this fear, when I had the chance to move to NYC with a family friend, I took it, hoping that life for an undocumented student wouldn’t be as difficult. Here in New York, I’ve been able to continue my education. Organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition have given me opportunities that I would otherwise be struggling to obtain because of my status.”

Monica Sibri, a student at the College of Staten Island, spoke about her pursuit for opportunity regardless of not qualifying for deferred action. “I did not qualify for deferred action because I did not come into the country before the age of sixteen, which is one of the requirements. I think the law’s limits are arbitrary. My inability to apply for DACA has added an additional hole in my life but I continue to find ways of moving forward to accomplish my goals. The Dream Fellowship has helped me to keep my head up and keep pushing for my dreams. I am fighting for myself and my family to be able to live in this country where we have made our home. My mother recently gave birth to a new member of my family, my little brother. But she is terrified of one day being deported and being torn away from her family. My brother is a U.S citizen and we are his family. We are fighting to keep our family together.”

Mehdi Mahraoui, a Moroccan DREAMer studying at John Jay College, said, “I never understood what it meant to be undocumented until my senior year of high school when I watched my peers get into the colleges of their choice and receive financial aid. I hid my status from my friends and teachers for a long time, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore and broke down in tears. It was my coach and my teammates who helped me raise money for my first year of college. I will never forget the kindness of my community in helping me to reach my full potential. The DREAM Fellowship has continued to help me fulfill my desire to advocate for immigrant communities and by sharing my story I hope to help change the immigration system in this country.”

[Left to Right] DREAM Fellows Mehdi Mahraoui, Monica Sibri, and Susan Lema share their stories.

Susan Lema, a math major at Baruch College told her story, “I came to the United States when I was 5 years because my dad wanted me, his only daughter, to obtain the education he was not fortunate enough to pursue. He arrived to the US before I did, and worked multiple jobs for endless hours to provide money for my schooling. My dream was always to attend Baruch College, and I was so happy when I was accepted. Unfortunately due to limited financial resources for undocumented students, my dream seemed impossible. The Dream Fellowship has made my dream to pursue a bachelor's degree at Baruch College a little easier. I am grateful for the generosity of the New York Immigration Coalition to foster the dreams of undocumented students.”

SungMo (Daniel) Yang, who studies political science at Baruch College said, “To raise money to pay off my college tuition, I would work as a sandwich maker at a deli in Union Square. One summer, I remember getting on the subway in the scorching heat on July 4th and it was full of families enjoying the holiday- I felt a pang of anger and shame that I could not live like a regular American and I could not hold in my frustrations anymore. I resolved that I would work harder and study even harder to achieve my dreams. With the knowledge I have gained through the fellowship and this network of dreamers, I am happy to say that I have become a more confident person who is pushing for change.”

Hina Naveed, a 22-year old Pakistani immigrant studying at the College of Staten Island told her story, “My family immigrated to the U.S when I was just 10 years old in order to seek medical treatment for my older sister. My sister’s doctors advised us that any interruption in her treatment would be extremely detrimental to her well-being, and so to save my sister’s life, my family had no choice but to overstay our visas. I chose to apply for the fellowship because I felt that the experience would allow me to finally step out from the shadows of shame, fear, and helplessness that come with being undocumented. The scholarship opportunity has significantly eased the financial burden of paying for my education out of pocket.”

Maria Vera, a senior at Hunter College of Ecuadorian background, said “I came to the United States when I was five years old to be reunited with my mother. I grew up with the idea that if I worked hard I will get places, and that I did. I was accepted to several colleges and offered various scholarships but due to my status I could not accept them. I applied to the Dream Fellowship because I wanted to be able to meet other young people undergoing similar experiences. This May, I will be graduating in the top 15% of my class with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and departmental honors in psychology. This is just the beginning of reaching my goals and giving back to America for everything that has been for provided me.”

[Left to Right] DREAM Fellows Maria Vera, Tanling Tsao, and Ivy Teng Lei share their stories.

Ivy Teng Lei, a Baruch College student double majoring in corporate communications an actuarial science said, “When I ask my mother why we left China, she always told me that it was for a better future for all my siblings and I. My mother worked in a factory and our days were filled with school. Life was tough, but it was fulfilling because our family always stuck together. When college application time came around, I applied to a full scholarship program, and the recruiter personally called me to tell me I was accepted. However, because I didn’t have the proper documentation, I could not accept the scholarship. Three weeks ago, I was approved for deferred action and I can finally begin my search for a career and put my skills to good use. I knew that the DREAM fellowship would provide me with a medium to influence fellow activists to voice our concerns and this has been an important opportunity.”

Umema Iqbal, a 22-year old Baruch College student, said, “Fourteen years ago, when I was seven, my father made a conscious decision to move his family to the United States because violence in Pakistan was increasing and it was becoming difficult to live there. My struggles continued in the U.S. however when I couldn’t apply for financial aid for college or get a legal job. Last year when DACA came into effect, I finally felt things turn around and I was given hope that I could finally work in this country. After receiving DACA I still felt something missing in my life; I wanted to become part of this movement, which led me to the Dream Fellowship. It has given me a platform to speak up as an undocumented student and to feel that there is hope for us in the future.”

Tanling Tsao, a Queens College double major in linguistics and childhood education said, “Before I received DACA, I worked 30 hours a week while attending school full-time. My parents cannot afford to help me because they are taking care of my three younger siblings. However, I wanted to be the first person from my family to go to college and I told myself that I would not give up on my career pursuits. My faith supports me to continue my academic dream. As part of the DREAM Fellowship cohort this semester, I have been able to received leadership training, visit members of congress and rallying in Washington D.C for immigration reform. These first hand experiences have been extremely valuable.”

Korede Griffith, a criminology student at John Jay College said, “I moved to the United States when I was 12 years old from Botswana via Guyana where I am originally from. My family moved for better economic opportunities but I have faced many barriers because of my legal status. I have always believed that life is ten percent what happens and 90 percent what you make of it, so I have worked hard in school in order to make it. My first name translates to the word “prosperous” and I have hope that this country will help me live up to the meaning of my name. Opportunities such as the DREAM Fellowship have helped make my life as an undocumented student easier and that is something I am grateful for.”

Danyeli Rodriguez, a 17-year old freshman attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said, “I came to the United States from the Dominican Republic at eight years old in hope of a better future. I became interested in social justice and right now I am pursuing a bachelors degree in Humanities and Justice. Although my struggle has been hard, learning English, finding friends who could understand me, working to make it to college and programs like the DREAM fellowship have helped me keep my hopes up and keep fighting for comprehensive immigration reform. I am more motivated than ever and will continue to persevere.”

Jung Rae Jang, a Hunter College student of South Korean background, said, “I moved to the United States at age 15 with my mother who wanted better educational opportunities for me. For eight years we struggled to gain legal status with no success and hope looked slim. Becoming an active participant in the immigration reform movement and learning that there are 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. struggling for a pathway to citizenship has made me feel less alone and renewed my desire to advocate on behalf of this community.”


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