Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Immigrant students have high hopes for ‘dream’ bill

By Shant Shahrigian
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Fatmata Bangura, 20 and Sekou Magassouba, 20, seniors at the ELLIS Preparatory Academy, discuss their post-graduation plans on Feb 12.

Fatmata Bangura, a senior at the ELLIS Preparatory Academy who immigrated from Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2011, wants to be a lawyer one day. But passing state Regents Exams is not the only obstacle for the 20-year-old woman, whose education in Sierra Leone was described as spotty by an ELLIS administrator.

Ms. Bangura said her green card is in the possession of her estranged father. With the deadline for her to apply for U.S. citizenship fast approaching, navigating the system is a daunting task — one that may prevent her from receiving state funds even if she does get on the path to law school in the future.

“I want to go, but I don’t have the money,” Ms. Bangura said, “[My friends] say if you don’t have documents, you cannot go to college. I was like, really?”

Ms. Bangura said faculty at ELLIS, the city’s first school dedicated to serving immigrant students, have already helped with both her academics and family life. Advocates say a state Dream Act for undocumented students to receive state funds for college expenses would also help people like Ms. Bangura.

Earlier this year, chances the state legislature will pass the law received a boost when state Senate Co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein announced his support for the legislation. While other issues, notably universal preschool and the minimum wage, have since eclipsed the Dream Act in public debate, advocates and educators are hoping the bill will come into force after years of debate.

“Without that legislation, it is harming society at large,” said Jeremy Heyman, an ELLIS counselor focusing on college access and other issues. “It’s a huge detriment to students, being able to fund their time in college.”

Mr. Heyman added that the challenges of being an undocumented student start before college is on the horizon.

“We’ve had a lot who were undocumented who left before they graduated,” he said. “Part of it is they were very frustrated and realized what they’d face before they left.”

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