After years of waiting for her petition for green card, Yuna Im, then 22 years old, found out that she was a year too old to apply for family based permanent resident status. The case had been pending since her parents, along with Im and her sisters, immigrated to the United States in 1989.
It was bittersweet that her younger sister was eligible for a permanent resident status on the very same day that Im began her life as an undocumented immigrant.
While her sister went on to college and received financial aid, Im could not afford to go to her dream school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, a State University of New York. As an undocumented immigrant, she is not qualified for any financial assistance.
"Sometimes I feel like I have nothing in the future," she told the Daily News.
For many undocumented immigrants such as Im, obtaining higher education is nearly an impossible goal. While high school education is accessible and free to all immigrant students, thanks to a1982 Supreme Court decision, college tuition has increased to the point that many cannot attend without financial aid. Last year alone, tuition at the City University of New York increased by 25 percent to more than $4,000.
Advocates said that 50,000 to 65,000 graduates of American high schools each year are children of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or longer.
"We want to make sure these students are able to contribute and use their potential," Anna Maria Archila of the Latin American Integration Center in Woodside told Newsday.
A federal bill aims to help these students. Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee approved The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or Dream Act, that would grant conditional legal status to high school graduate who are illegal immigrants but have lived in the United States for at least five years and were younger than 16 at the time of their entry.
To get permanent resident status, the bill would have an illegal immigrant completed two years of military service or two years of college within six years of graduating from high school.
Steven Yun, executive director of the National Koran American Services & Education Consortium Inc. told Newsday that many undocumented immigrants cannot afford college tuition and work in the underground economy.
"I wanted to study computer graphics," said Im, who after a brief enrollment dropped out of college and began working illegally.
Under the proposal, undocumented students could receive a federal loan or work-study grant but they will not be eligible for other federal financial aid.
Advocates believed the Dream Act, with 40 co-sponsors in the Senate, stands a chance of passing in an election year "[Politicians] will want to 'give' something to the immigrant community for their votes," said Minerva Moya of New York Immigration Coalition.
Critics argue that the bill is another example of pandering. "This bill is a crass political calculation aimed at selling amnesty disguised s as an educative initiative," Dain Stein of the Federal for American Immigration Reform, an organization promoting stricter immigration policies, told PBS.
The US House of Representative is also considering a similar bill, the Student Adjustment Act, but it would grant legal status to students enrolled in seventh grade or above.
Regardless of the outcome of these bills, like many undocumented immigrants before her, Im plans to stay in New York city for a long time even if it means that her dream will never come true.
An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen.
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