Despite Defeat, DREAM Act Supporters Spurred Into Action This Week
The DREAM Act, legislation that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented minors, may have been blocked in the Senate this week, but student activists across the country built up a lot of momentum in the days leading up to Tuesday's vote, and they're regrouping now to bring that energy to bear in the midterm elections.
If nothing else, this week has seen gains in the court of public opinion for the DREAM Act: More people know what it's for and why it's important after a week of intensified media coverage and grassroots campaigning. The DREAM Act, which would undocumented young people a path to citizenship if they follow the law and go to college or serve for two years in the military, was blocked by a narrow failure to end a Senate filibuster earlier this week.
The presidents of eight universities in the nation's higher education powerhouse issued a letter of support (PDF) for the act. Some unusual suspects from the right and the military openly voiced their support for giving undocumented young people a path to citizenship if they follow the law and go to college or serve for two years in the military.
The New York Times profiled Cesar Vargas, an undocumented young person who wants to join the military and study law, demonstrating how this legislation connects to real individuals.
“Without the Dream Act, I’m relegated to a mere shadow,” he said, after recounting his longtime hopes of joining the military. He said he had repeatedly tried to enlist, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but was turned away.
“I’m asking Congress to give us the opportunity to serve the only country we know, the only country we call home,” he said.
Change.org published profiles of 5 inspiring DREAMers in the run up to the Senate vote. Campus Progress published its own videos of David Cho, a DREAMer from University of California–Los Angeles who spoke in support of the DREAM act at this summer's national conference, and a video of DREAMers rallying in support of legislation earlier this summer. Stories like these make it clear that we’re not talking about people looking to “leach off the system” or take an easy way out. These young people are this country’s future cancer researchers, doctors, teachers, civil rights lawyers, and politically engaged members of civil society. They’re today’s honor students, activists, and volunteers.
Such stories also gave a jolt of adrenaline to activism around a piece of legislation that’s been kicking around the Senate for ten years without results. In the short time between Harry Reid's announcement last week and the defeat of the defense authorization bill tied to the DREAM Act on Tuesday, activists flooded their Senators’ offices phone lines and Facebook walls.
They also got creative with protests across the country, with protesters spelling out a call to their senator on a Florida beach, staging mock-military drills, fasting, and sitting-in in front of their senators' offices the old-fashioned way.
And that energy isn’t just going to go away—right after the DREAM Act stalled 4 votes short of the 60 vote majority needed to make it into an amendment of the Defense Authorization Bill, DREAM activists were already regrouping to figure out a new strategy.
A blogger on DREAMactivist.org stressed that getting to the senate floor was still a step forward, despite the disappointing results:
Don’t let anybody tell you this was a defeat. It wasn’t.
If you watched the floor speeches, you know that we learned a lot about different senators. We took notes. We heard them talk about procedure, about up and down votes, and a lot of them talked about wanting to discuss the merits of the DREAM Act, and only the DREAM Act, without a bundled package of reforms.
Fair enough. They want to talk about the DREAM Act, and just the DREAM Act? We’ll take it. Over 70 percent of the country supports the DREAM Act. Corporations like Microsoft and Pfizer support the DREAM Act, universities from Harvard to the University of California support the DREAM Act, communities of faith support the DREAM Act, shoot, even Ricky Martin supports the DREAM Act.
Let’s triple our efforts. More phone calls. More actions. We have set the goal of a stand-alone DREAM Act in Congress within the next two weeks.
The activism push this week has also positioned immigration reform to be a more prominent issue in the midterm elections, with DREAM activists shifting their attention to blocking anti-immigration Senators from re-election in November. The editorial staff of the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario published a list of anti-DREAM senators, complete with their phone numbers, urging Latino voters not to help them back into office.
And the DREAM Act will be back. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pledged to immediately reintroduce the act to the Senate. The U.S. Senate’s twitter feed reported yesterday that “The DREAM Act has been procedurally added to the legislative calendar as a stand-alone bill (S. 3827)" Feet in 2 Worlds predicts it’ll be back in the Senate "in the lame duck session or in 2011."