DREAM Act activists remain optimistic as the Senate vote looms
Local supporters of the DREAM Act are cautiously optimistic after the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week passed the historic legislation aimed at providing a path to legal status for young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
Efforts to bolster support for the bill are now directed at the U.S. Senate, which postponed a vote on Thursday. The move was intended to buy some time so supporters can line up the necessary votes to try to pass the measure and send it to President Obama.
“We’re very hopeful that those who have supported this bi-partisan measure in the past will remember the reasons why they stood up for it in the first place and vote in favor of it,” said Brendan Greene, mountain region organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).
“This was an amazingly historic vote in the House,” he said. “We have to celebrate that accomplishment, which we believe is due to all the work our local students and students nationally are doing. But we have to keep the pressure on … four or five votes moved one way or the other will make a huge difference.”
The issue is critically important for students such as Nastienka Rangel of Glenwood Springs High School, who has been working with other local students from Glenwood Springs to Aspen through the new group Association of Youth United in Action, or AJUA, to rally support for the bill.
“This would be a good opportunity for me to be able to go to college and become a doctor, which has been my dream for a lot of years,” said Rangel, who came to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was 6.
“I’m really happy that [the House] finally agreed to vote on the DREAM Act,” she said. “It’s a good sign that the Senate will vote on it to.”
The bill – formally called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act – passed the House 216 to 198 late Wednesday, with eight Republicans joining the lame-duck Democratic majority in favor of the bill. However, 38 Democrats opposed it.
The measure would grant hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or join the military.
It would apply to students who have graduated from high school or already completed two years of college, and have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. Other requirements would also apply before a student could qualify.
The bill was originally introduced nearly 10 years ago by senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
Facing GOP objections, Senate Democrats put aside the vote on Thursday, but intend to bring it up again before year’s end, possibly as soon as next week.
Senate Republicans have said they will block action on any issue until bills related to the expiring tax cuts and the federal budget were completed. But those matters may be decided soon.
“It just doesn’t make sense to play politics with this important issue,” Greene said. “By moving it down the line a little bit, maybe we can get some of these other contentious issues out of the way, and people will be able to vote their conscience more on the DREAM Act.”
Rangel said she an her friends will be busy over the next week encouraging people to call Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, and to pass the word along to friends and family in other states to do the same with their senators.
“That’s why we’ve been doing these rallies, to get attention for this issue,” she said. “We really do need the DREAM Act.”
Basalt High School math teacher Erin McMorrow has also been busy educating people about the issue and encouraging friends and family to call their senators.
“Personally, I find the vote in the House to be inspiring,” she said. “This is really giving a lot of kids hope, and they see this as a real possibility for the first time.”
Opponents of the bill say it amounts to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and are also fighting hard to make sure the measure fails in the Senate.
“The Dream Amnesty is inappropriate for the lame duck session, and would decimate efforts to enforce existing immigration and border laws,” William Gheen, president of the political action committee Americans for Legal Immigration, said in a statement issued earlier this week before the House vote.
“This nightmare act would turn millions of illegal aliens into competitive workers, students, and voters at a time when Americans are suffering from a lack of jobs and skyrocketing college costs,” he said.
Supporters contend it makes economic sense to allow those who were brought to the U.S. as children, and who consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to or family living in their native countries, to eventually participate as legal citizens.
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