The U.S. Senate voted to table its version of the DREAM Act Dec. 9, in order to consider the version passed by the House the day before. Supporters say the House vote was historic and a longtime coming because this is the first time the decade-old measure has ever passed in either chamber.
The bill would allow qualifying undocumented students, young people who came to the U.S. as children, to earn their legal status by going to college or joining the military with a path toward citizenship.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tabled the bill giving advocates more time to whip up the votes still needed to break a Republican filibuster. The move allows the Senate to vote on the House version, thereby streamlining the process if the Senate is successful. It also removes the hurdle of the Republican's refusal to deal with any other legislation until their tax-cut deal with President Obama passes.
Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., both longtime DREAM Act champions, said they plan to bring up the House-approved version before the end of the year. It could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as next week.
In a joint statement they said, "The DREAM Act is not a symbolic vote. We owe it to the young men and women whose lives will be affected by this bill, and to the country which needs their service in the military and their skills in building our economy, to honestly address this issue. Members on both sides of the aisle need to ask themselves if we can afford to say to these young men and women there is no place in America for you."
Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said in a statement the passage of the bill in the House was a historic moment for the Latino community.
"For Latinos, the fastest growing segment of the nation's electorate, the DREAM Act vote is a defining moment. The issue is near and dear to Latinos. While the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are citizens, we are keenly aware of the devastating effects of congressional inaction on immigration reform. America cannot afford to lose another generation of young people who stand to contribute to its economic and social prosperity."
"We urge the Senate to follow the House's lead in passing this modest, sensible legislation. Make no mistake - Latinos will be watching closely to see what their senators do next week and will remember those members who vote for America's future, and those who neglect to take a stand," she said.
In a statement the White House said approval of the bill in the House was also historic and an important step, adding, "We agree with the Senate leadership's decision to table the version under consideration in that chamber in favor of taking up the version approved in the House. The President looks forward to seeing the Senate approve it so that he can sign it into law."
DREAM activists note the bill is supported by 66 percent of the American people, and 75 percent of Latino voters say passing it is either extremely important or very important. More than 2.1 million undocumented students could be eligible, and about 55,000 young people yearly could benefit from it. Military leaders are calling for its passage. Already eight percent of servicemen and women in the armed forces are immigrants.
Meanwhile according to a new Gallup Poll conducted earlier this month, 54 percent of approximately 1,000 adults nationwide say they favor the measure, while 42 percent say they oppose, with a margin of error of 4.0 percent.
For years hundreds of thousands, if not millions of young people, immigrant rights activist's, faith leaders and the labor movement have been organizing rallies, marches, phone-banks, and letter writing campaigns toward lobbying Congress to pass the bill.
Supporters intend to use the next few weeks to put immense pressure on every single senator to vote yes.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House-approved bill would reduce the national deficit by $2.2 billion over the next decade.
The bill faces stiff opposition in the Senate from a vocal set of anti-immigrant Republicans. Critics note GOP opposition to the measure has relied mostly on fear-mongering, spinning elaborate nightmare scenarios where American citizens lose their privileges to immigrants and invite a flood of new immigrants into the country.
However others argue passing the DREAM Act is really about young people and their future, about youth being able to serve the country that is the only place they know as home. It's about the thousands of valedictorians, future doctors and educators, skilled workers of all kinds who just want to give back to their communities in the best possible way.
Photo: At an Immigrant Youth Justice League rally in Chicago last March. Pepe Lozano/People's World