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SUNY Dutchess student responds to president's call for immigration reform

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Albany/HV: SUNY Dutchess student responds to president's call for immigration reform
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This week, announcements of immigration reform from President Obama and a group of eight Senators came as a source of encouragement for one local SUNY Dutchess student.
YNN's Eva McKend met with the young woman who says the pledge from the president to finally take on reform could change her life.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- "I was thirteen when I came here. I came with my two sisters without speaking any English," said Gabriela Quintanilla, a freshman at SUNY Dutchess.

Quintanilla is a "DREAMer" but when the undocumented student came to Sullivan County from El Salvador, she didn't realize her immigration status would present so many challenges. Her story is featured in Elena Gaby's documentary "Paper State."

Promises of reform from President Obama and a group of Senators this week offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dim situation.

"I knew that I was an undocumented student but I did not realize it was going to be very difficult to go to college. I’m really proud to know they are actually stepping forward and doing something about this issue. It’s something that affects everybody," said Quintanilla.

The 19-year-old couldn't join her friends from Liberty High School when they applied for their drivers licenses. An undocumented status also means no possibility of financial aid.

The Vassar College student and documentarian behind "Paper State" and a Hudson Valley labor group say though immigration reform talks in the past have failed, this time it will be different.

"I feel very optimistic about President Obama’s announcement about comprehensive immigration reform. He said that you don’t have to be born in America to write the next chapter of our history and I believe that very much as a filmmaker and as a human being," said Gaby.

"This is a really good start. Republicans have some reason to really kind of move forward especially after having gotten shellacked by the Hispanic vote in the last election," said Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation President Paul Ellis-Graham.

Undocumented but unafraid and undeterred. It's the tag line of the documentary and how Quintanilla is determined to live her life.

"I feel like if my voice can be heard for other students and if I can help other students, I’m willing to do it because I know how it feels to be an undocumented student and I know the struggles that they go through. I would really like to see a change," she said.

The DREAM Act, legislation that would aid undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children, has been tossed around in several variations nationally and in different states for over a decade.

Quintanilla has applied for the Obama administration's special deferred action program and if approved will be safe from deportation for the next two years, but with talks of reform, what happens this year, could make all the difference.

For more information on "Rural Migrant Ministry," the organization that helped Quintanilla,

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