NEW YORK CITY — Dolce Rojas, 20, has spent most of her life here. She even enrolled in high school before leaving without a diploma, she said, standing at a podium inside the City Council’s chambers, with her 5-month old son, Emiliano, snuggly slung in front of her.
With national immigration reform still being debated, Rojas has a limited number of options to remain in the country legally.
On Wednesday, the city announced that it is trying to make one of those options more accessible to thousands of immigrants who came here as children.
Under the 2012 federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, young adult immigrants who arrived here at a young age are eligible for temporary relief from the threat of deportation. But to qualify, they must have the equivalent of a high school diploma — something Rojas and 16,000 other immigrant New Yorkers who otherwise would have qualified do not have. Now, the city is funding a $18 million expansion of adult education programs to help thousands of individuals and family take advantage of DACA.
“It gives me the opportunity to become a better person for myself and my family,” she said.
According to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s expanded plan will help dramatically increase the number of eligible immigrants participating in the DACA program.
“President Obama did a good thing [in creating the DACA program],” Quinn said. “But if we were complacent in New York City, and allowed there to be no additional adult education seats, 16,000 people who could have been helped by President Obama might have lost that opportunity.”
Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition praised the program for helping to bring a vital opportunity to a community in need. “This is really a once in a lifetime opportunity for these folks,” he said.
The new city budget provides nearly $14 million in funds for community-based organizations through the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development for outreach to eligible immigrants and to increase the capacity in adult education programs. Additionally, just over $4 million will go to CUNY for seat expansion and professional development.