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With little to no federal action over the growing need for substantial immigration reform, New York State lawmakers have taken action to address the issue with an immigration bill of their own entitled New York Is Home Act, legalizing undocumented workers and non-citizen residents, also referred to as illegal immigrants, for the first time. Under the bill undocumented workers would be able to vote, run for office, qualify for state benefits such as Medicaid coverage, professional licensing, driver’s licenses, and tuition assistance. Illegal residents would have to prove that they have lived and paid taxes in New York for at least three years, as well as undergo registration for jury duty.
With a large Hispanic population, many New York state residents view the New York is Home Act as a step forward in helping to legitimize the countless “floating” residents in the state who pay taxes, attend schools and universities, and hold jobs and careers in various fields.
Democratic State Senator Gustavo Rivera who is a proponent of the New York is Home Act is sponsoring the bill through the New York State Assembly. Rivera called the legislation a “precedent,” and thinks the political tide has changed in favor of immigration reform following the primary defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Still, Rivera says that the bill “certainly will not pass this session,” and that it may be years before it does.
There are still many challenges the New York is Home Act faces. Even if the immigration bill were to pass, observers say that its relatively profound ideas on the types of benefits and opportunities granted to nonresident citizens could be taken down by the court system. With little to no precedent in place, it would be up to the legal system to ultimately decide whether or not New York’s actions were legal by federal standards. One such issue that has already been raised is the idea of considering these new New York State residents as citizens, a term that is considered federal in nature.
Many of the nonresident citizens affected by this bill were brought here as young children, most do not even remember their home country. Lawyer Cesar Vargas came to the United States from Mexico when he was five years old. “I could be deported tomorrow even though New York is my home. Brooklyn has been my home,” said Vargas.
Vargas passed the bar but according to current law is not allowed to practice law since he is not a citizen. Vargas says all he wants is “An opportunity to be a lawyer for my community,” and as a tax paying individual, he only wants the ability to become a fully integrated member of society. “I only want the opportunity,” says Vargas, “no special treatment.”
Vargas is just one of three million undocumented workers in the state who struggle day-to-day wondering if they are next to be deported. Under President Obama, deportations have increased steadily beyond his predecessor President George W. Bush. Despite this, President Obama rallied the Latino vote in both the 2008 and 2012 Presidential election.
Proponents of the bill hope this could help bring much-needed revenue to the state in the form of new taxes, as well as provide opportunity for the millions of New York State residents who are currently undocumented and unable to pursue their careers.
By: John Amaruso