The DREAM Act supporters say the legislative battle for its passage is far from over and, as 2010 comes to an end, the U.S. Senate’s refusal to pass the bill Saturday, Dec. 18, will only embolden the powerful grass-roots movement determined to fight until victory.
The bill has seen both historic wins and a painful setback this year. The House passed the measure Dec. 8, but it failed to break a Republican filibuster in the Senate this past weekend. The House victory marked the first time the bill has made it through any chamber of Congress since its inception in 2000.
It gained 55 votes in favor with 41 against in the Senate, a tally short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for debate. Five Democrats broke ranks to vote against the bill, while only three Republicans voted for it.
The measure would provide undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children with their immigrant parents a pathway to citizenship if they commit at least two years to higher education or the military.
President Barack Obama called the Senate’s vote “incredibly disappointing” and vowed to continue working for the DREAM Act and immigration reform.
“A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is the best for the country,” said Obama. “It is not only the right thing to do for talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own, it is the right thing for the United States of America. There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation. Our nation is enriched by their talents and would benefit from the success of their efforts.
“My administration,” the president continued, “will not give up on the DREAM Act, or on the important business of fixing our broken immigration system. The American people deserve a serious debate on immigration, and it’s time to take the polarizing rhetoric off our national stage.”
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said “democracy lost out” with the Senate’s vote. “In the face of extraordinarily committed youth and a nationwide movement, obstinately obstructionist senators refused to allow a bill with obvious and enduring benefits to our nation’s future to move forward,” he said.
The Republicans knocked “some of our nation’s most critical constitutional and guiding principles,” Saenz added. “This is a critical political moment, and the Latino community and the entire nation will surely hold accountable the political leaders who cravenly blocked progress today.”
According to polls, the bill holds substantial public support – 70 percent of the population are for it. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports it’s passage would cut the deficit by $2.2 billion over the next 10 years. More than 2.1 million undocumented students would have been eligible, and about 65,000 young people yearly could have benefited from it.
Activists note the fact that the DREAM Act has made it so far is a testament to a national, youth-led grassroots movement that has waged a remarkable campaign on its behalf since Obama’s 2008 election. It’s been a narrative-driven one, a movement to change people’s minds about the humanity of immigrants through real people’s stories, they add. That, coupled with a lineup of traditional activism – hunger strikes, sit-ins, marches, walk-outs and civil disobedience – has made DREAM activists a force to be reckoned with.
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said, “The Republican Party had a golden opportunity to mend its relationship with Latinos … There is overwhelming support for this modest, sensible legislation. Yet they chose process over principle and politics over progress. It is now crystal clear to Latinos in this great nation who stood with them and who did not.”
Meanwhile, the fight for DREAM is not dead – it’s merely deferred. A community that is growing not just in size, but also in power and political awareness will not soon forget the recent vote.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the bill’s main champion said, “As long as these young people are determined to be part of this great nation, I am determined to fight for them to call America home.”
Durbin, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and others vowed that the Democrats would continue the fight in Congress – and the grassroots movement vowed to continue their fight on the ground.
Photo: Undocumented college student Jorge Herrera, 18, center, of Carson, Calif., rallies with students and Dream Act supporters in Los Angeles, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010. The Dream Act, which failed to pass in the Senate, would have given provisional legal status to undocumented youth brought to the country as children. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)