A version of this piece was originally published at Campus Progress.
NEW YORK—Both houses of Congress are expected to vote on the DREAM Act today, a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 to gain citizenship by attending college or joining the military. Last night, supporters of the bill gathered for candlelight vigils in cities and towns across the country, urging leaders to think about the lives of the young people who will be affected.
In New York City, supporters filled the pews of St. Teresa’s Church on the Lower East Side to pray that their members of Congress vote for the bill’s passage.
The DREAM Act’s prospects in Congress have been looking grim over the past few days. While it’s expected to pass in the House, the Senate is going to be a tougher battle, with 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster and a number of potential swing vote Senators leaning “no” or remaining tight-lipped about the issue. But the group gathered at St. Teresa’s last night remained hopeful.
Christina Baal, an organizer at the New York Immigration Coalition, reported record numbers of phone calls to Congress supporting the DREAM act this week. “In the past, anti-immigrant calls to members of Congress have outnumbered pro-immigrant calls by ten to one,” Baal said. “For the first time in the history of our movement, we are making the same amount of calls as the people who aren’t supporting us.”
Next to her, an over-sized mock check for $2.3 billion rested by the altar, a reminder of the Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that passage of the DREAM act would generate $2.3 billion in extra tax revenue and cut the deficit by $1.4 million over the next ten years.
Regardless of the obstacles facing the DREAM Act right now, Kevin Kang, a member of the national United We Dream campaign and an organizer at New York’s MinKwon Center for Community Action, says that now is the DREAM Act’s moment. “As a coalition that has been working to pass this legislation for the past ten years, we see that this is our best chance to pass it.”
Watch Campus Progress’ interview with Kevin Kang here:
The bill has gotten widespread public support in the last few weeks. Michael Gerson, a former aide to President Bush, published an editorial in the Washington Post about how support for the DREAM act transcends politics:
“The Defense Department supports the Dream Act as a source of quality volunteers. Business groups welcome a supply of college-educated workers. The Department of Homeland Security endorses the legislation so it can focus on other, more threatening, groups of illegal immigrants.”
Last night, the group gathered at St. Teresa’s church prayed for their representatives in Congress to open their hearts to the young people who stand to gain citizenship. “Lead our elected representatives to act in the spirit of justice, compassion, and generosity, and pass the DREAM Act, so young people who have never chosen to break the law may have a future in light, not in shadow, free to help build our economy, strengthen our military, and restore our nation’s greatness,” the group said together in their closing prayer.
Later today we’ll find out if their prayers are answered.