New York City will break national ground in becoming the first city in the country to invest into a program specifically designed to help young undocumented immigrants find jobs and get driver's licenses.
The $18 million program is meant to help an estimated 79,000 undocumented immigrants become eligible for the federal government's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which allows DREAMers, or young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children a chance to stay and work if they meet certain criteria.
Those who qualify for DACA get social security cards, temporary work permits and a chance, in some states, to get driver's licenses. But applicants need a high school degree, or a GED, and have to prove they've lived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday.
New York City's "immigration relief" program will help fund adult education classes and legal services for young undocumented immigrants who don't meet the criteria for DACA.
“It’s exciting to be the first city in America to make this investment in our young immigrants who, in turn, have so much to offer our city,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. Quinn, currently the front runner in the race to become the city's next mayor, spearheaded the effort to create the program.
But some don't see it as a job creator.
Bob Dane, communications director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the country's leading anti-illegal-immigration group, told Fox News Latino that the move is a political ploy to get the Latino vote and the city should use tax dollars to employ legal immigrants, not undocumented immigrants.
"They are brazenly blurring the distinction between legal and illegal," Dane said. "New York is hoping to expand the democratic voter base and they are using DACA as thin veil."
Melissa Garcia Velez, 20, a DREAMer and proponent for young undocumented immigrants, said the program will be a tremendous boon for people in a bind like her -- financially-strapped undocumented youngsters who cannot afford to go to school.
"We've seen cases where undocumented youth would have to choose between paying to apply for the Deferred Action program or paying for a semester of classes," said Velez, the Leadership Development Coordinator at the New York State Youth Leadership Council.
Velez also thinks it's a good step forward toward an eventual New York state DREAM Act, which would make federal financial aid available to undocumented immigrants applying to college.
"We've been fighting for two years," said Velez. "This will help give jobs to thousands that will eventually benefit the state."