ALBANY—After a fallout last year over Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s failed plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, more than 1,000 immigrants rallied on the steps of the Capitol on Monday to demand a new initiative from Spitzer: a $100 million citizenship program to fund education and legal services to help immigrants assimilate more easily.
The crowd was made up of a diverse mix of immigrants—from Russia, Mexico, Africa, Korea, Haiti and other countries—that now call the state home.
The $100 million citizenship initiative would fund English-learning classes for children and adults, provide legal assistance to help eligible immigrants through the citizenship application process and protect immigrants from abusive employers and scams, according the coalition.
The citizenship initiative would not only help immigrants achieve citizenship more easily, it would create a more respectful environment statewide for newcomers, said Chung-Wha Hung, executive director of the state’s Immigration Coalition.
Currently, 4 million New Yorkers—20 percent of the state’s population—is foreign born, with 1.1 million of those currently eligible for citizenship, according to the coalition. Another 400,000 New Yorkers will be up for citizenship in the coming years, according to the coalition.
There are more than 200,000 students in the state school system that are trying to learn English, according to the coalition. A Spitzer spokesman said the governor has proposed funding to help immigrants in New York.
“In a difficult budget year where the governor closed a $4.6 billion budget gap, the state provides over $176 million in state and federal funding for immigrant support services and has targeted additional funding to immigrant children through education funding formulas,” said Jeffrey Gordon, spokesman for the state budget division.
Members of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition were among the demonstrators demanding better education for immigrants.
Jacqueline Garcia, an 18-year-old resident of Rye and student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, said, “We are going to be tomorrow’s majority.”