More than 400 students from various Long Island school districts, most of them Latino immigrants, attended the one-day conference “Dreams and Challenges: Critical Immigration Issues that Impact Long Island,” a forum in which they got important information on topics affecting immigrant families but especially ‘DREAMers.’
Long Island Wins helped organize this event along with SUNY Old Westbury College, the Hispanic Latino Cultural Center at SUNY Old Westbury, and the Long Island Immigrants Student Advocates, LIISA. The conference took place on Tuesday at the SUNY campus.
This event was aimed to motivate undocumented students to fight for what they want to accomplish, and provide them with information and tools, so they can pursue their educational goals, according to Osman Canales, Director for LIISA.
“The most critical thing is for them to know that they too can go to college, that they too can get a college degree,” Canales said. “We are very excited to see how schools and students responded to our call. It’s incredible to see the room full of people and most of them are immigrants students.”
Keynote speaker, Erika Andiola, a known Dreamer and activist nationwide for her continuous fight for immigrant rights and for the approval of DACA, a deferred action federal program for undocumented students, called on students to get involved in the fight for immigrant rights.
“We still have more to do,” Andiola said in her speech. “They [some politicians] want to tell your story for you and that has to stop. You have to tell your own story.”
Long Island Wins director, Maryann Sinclair Slutsky was the moderator in a panel that discussed education, the law and civil rights for newly arriving immigrant children. Experts from local organizations informed the students about their rights to a full education, regardless of their immigration status. The panelists also asked the students not to be afraid and to be better informed about services available to them.
MARYANN SLUTSKY, DIRECTOR, LONG ISLAND WINS.
“Understand you have to speak up, you have rights. We live in a democracy and democracy is the best way to fight hatred,” said Patrick Young, Director for the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, one of the panelists.
During her intervention in a panel on DREAMers challenges, Laura Lemus, Special Project Coordinator for Long Island Wins, talked about the importance of passing the New York State Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented students to access state financial aid for college tuition.
“It was very important to discuss the different immigration issues on Long Island,” Lemus said. “I think everyone walked away inspired and empowered by the dreamers movement.”
DREAMERS IN THE PANELS SPOKE ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES AND SUCCESS.
For Damaris Sandoval, a 19 year old student at Hempstead High School, who came from El Salvador three years ago, this event helped her to be better informed. “These are topics of our interest, of all immigrants who want to study, who want a scholarship and want to have a future,” she said.
Jaqueline Reyes, 43 years old, an ESL teacher at Westbury Middle School, said she wanted her students to find out that they are not alone and they too have a future.
“This conference is so necessary for students. Usually my students come from Central America, and they bring too much inside and they don’t look for their future, so this was the way of telling them that they are not alone in this country, that all of us go through the same problems, but we can all do something better with our lifes,” said Reyes.
Canales said that they want to continue doing this conference every year.