The Promise of the Torch: Pass the NY State DREAM Act

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13:  The Statue of Liberty which, remains closed to the public six weeks after Hurricane Sandy on Dec
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13: The Statue of Liberty which, remains closed to the public six weeks after Hurricane Sandy on December 13, 2012 in New York City. The storm caused extensive damage to National Park Service facilities on Liberty Island, although the statue itself remained unscathed, according to officials. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar toured the island Thursday while visiting the area to see damage caused by the storm. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Co-authored by Francisco Moya

"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 right here in New York that will embrace our progressive heritage and bring us that much closer to making the dream of opportunity for all a reality. This week, the New York State Assembly once again passed the New York DREAM Act, which extends state financial aid opportunities to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. We applaud the Assembly's continued leadership on this critical issue and urge the State Senate to promptly pass this landmark legislation. 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 per year for jobs requiring a college degree.

And yet, while a recent survey found that 39 percent of teenagers are interested in starting a business, the sad truth is that 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 hard-working youth who are determined to succeed.

By enacting the New York DREAM Act, we will join states like California, Texas, and New Mexico, and 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 that all of America's young people -- 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 of the New York communities that will benefit from having a 21st century workforce prepared to handle the complex challenges of an increasingly inter-connected 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 Emma 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.

Francisco Moya is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the 39th District in Queens. Scott M. Stringer is the Manhattan Borough President.

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