El Diario/La Prensa’s Catalina Jaramillo contributed reporting to this article. Read her article in Spanish here.
Supporters of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2009 (S. 729), commonly known as the DREAM Act, have been let down again by Congress. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants through attending two years of college or serving in the U.S. military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had attached the DREAM Act, and a bill that would repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy onto the National Defense Authorization Act for next year, which usually passes with bipartisan support. But before the defense act, along with its amendments, could even be debated on the Senate floor, Republicans filibustered and Democrats couldn’t get the 60 votes to bring the measure to a vote. The final tally, at 2:30 PM today, was 56-43. Two Arkansas Democrats, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, joined the GOP in opposition, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska did not vote. Sen. Reid ultimately voted “nay” in a procedural move that will allow him to raise the bill again in the Senate.
In New York, a group of undocumented students gathered outside the office of Sen. Charles Schumer during the vote. They waited anxiously, checking their phones for Twitter updates on the action on the Senate floor. After the news came, there was a minute of silence before Jennifer Cariño spoke into the megaphone. “The energy and the passion that we have is not going to die. This only is going to make us stronger and we are going to get the DREAM Act as a stand alone bill,” she said. “It’s not over until it’s over.”
The students, who were organized by the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), marched to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, where they tried to keep up their spirits.
“This means that we continue on. This was an option and it didn’t go through, so now we are going to bring it back as a stand-alone,” said Sonia Guinansaca, an undocumented student who was arrested in July in Washington D.C. in an act of civil disobedience for the DREAM Act.
But others sounded disillusioned. “It could have been an important step for our future,” said Angy Rivera, a 20 year-old-student born in Colombia. “What we are going to do now?”
Even though it seems like Congress won’t touch comprehensive immigration reform with a ten-foot-long poll, DREAM Act supporters were hopeful after building momentum with high-profile rallies and support this year. Recently, former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke out in favor of the act, saying it would benefit the country economically as the labor force ages.
Some Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who supported the gay-rights rider, said they voted against the bill because they disagreed with Sen. Reid’s prohibitions on adding additional amendments. Others said this was just a ploy by Reid to attract votes from the Hispanic and gay-rights communities before the November election. Reid is in a tough reelection battle.
Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, grassroots youth movements and immigration reform activists flooded Congress with calls to pass the act.
“The passion that drove this intensive effort will continue to build and to galvanize us, and it will prevail,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, in a statement. “Those who voted ‘no’ today chose largely to hide behind spurious objections to the process and made it plain that immigrants would continue to be exploited as a wedge issue in an ugly and angry electoral season,” she added.
It is estimated that the DREAM Act would benefit around 800,000 students in the U.S. who were brought here by their parents before the age of 16.
Hector Figueroa, Secretary Treasurer in the union 32BJ, said in a statement that blocking the DREAM Act was economically “dim-witted.”
“By blocking passage of the DREAM Act the GOP has left hundreds of thousands of highly motivated students and future entrepreneurs, doctors and scientists in a state of limbo that will take a toll in our ‘high-skills-hungry’ economy,” he said.
The group of students protesting outside of the Senators’ offices plan to head to Washington, D.C. this week to continue their fight and define a new strategy for their dream to become U.S. citizens.