Local Dream Act supporters disheartened but won’t give up
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Local students and educators who’ve become active in the effort to pass the Dream Act youth immigration bill reacted with a mix of frustration, tempered with perseverance, after the U.S. Senate on Saturday blocked efforts to move the legislation forward.
“I feel devastated, upset and frustrated,” said Edgar Niebla, a Basalt High School and Colorado Mountain College graduate who became a local symbol in the fight for immigration reform after he was detained for a period of time by immigration enforcement officials earlier this year and threatened with deportation to Mexico.
“But at the same time, I still walk with my head held high, and invite everyone to do the same, because up to now we’ve given it our all,” said Niebla, who was been attempting to gain legal status so he can go to work as a police officer.
He and other high school and college-aged students who were brought to the United States as children with their illegal immigrant parents view the Dream Act as their best hope to contribute to the country they call home.
Senate sponsors of the bill fell five votes short of the 60 needed in a Saturday cloture vote to bring the legislation up for formal consideration. The move failed 55-41, with the minority prevailing in blocking the bill from moving forward.
“The U.S. Senate showed that, while a majority of America and the U.S. Congress supports the DREAM Act, a minority of short-sighted and mean-spirited restrictionists refuse to give kids a chance at their dreams,” the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) said in a prepared statement following the Senate vote.
The Senate defeat came on the heels of a historic 216-198 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month in favor of bill. It was the first time in the 10 years since the legislation was first introduced that it had passed in either chamber.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall had both favored the legislation, as did five House members from Colorado.
Critics of the bill have called the measure a back-door grant of amnesty that would encourage more illegal immigration. Several Congressional members who voted against the bill also said that such an emotionally charged issue should wait until the new Congress is sworn in after the first of the year.
“The result of the vote was disheartening, but the kids affected by this are resilient,” said Jackie Vosler, a teacher at Basalt High School who joined with local students in organizing AJUA (Association of Youth United in Action) to lobby for passage of the bill.
“They’ll keep fighting for the opportunity to pursue a better future, and I’ll be there with them every step of the way,” she said.
Karla, a student at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs who asked that her last name not be used, also said the Senate vote was frustrating.
“Personally, I feel very hopeless, frustrated and hurt that people can’t see how hard we are fighting for our dreams,” she said. “We want the opportunity to give back to the country that raised us.”
Added CMC student Junior Ortega, who also went to school and grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley, “Even though it did not pass today, our hope for equality will never end no matter how much pain and struggles we face each day. We will never give up.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.