DREAM Act backers vow to keep trying after GOP filibuster

With Tuesday’s failure of the DREAM Act, disappointed students and immigrant rights activists Wednesday vowed to forge ahead in their fight to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youths brought into this country as minors. The act died with a GOP filibuster of a defense bill.

“We are furious with the Republicans and Democrats who voted against [the DREAM Act],” said Erika Blum, who volunteers at VOICE (Voices of Immigrant Children for Education). “But we can’t give up, we’ve got to keep focused and make sure these dreams are not abandoned.”

This most recent hurdle for the DREAM Act is nothing new. It was first introduced in the Senate in 2001 but has never been able to get 60 votes.

The potential beneficiaries of the legislation would be afforded a pathway to citizenship provided they have no criminal record and have graduated high school. If the bill ever passes, potential beneficiaries could receive conditional status in the country while completing a two-year college degree or serving in the military, after which they could be eligible for naturalization.

“If the DREAM Act ever were to pass, it would be the start of a new life,” said Yesenia Garcia, 24, an undocumented immigrant who arrived in the country when she was five. “I’d be able to stop lying to people about my status. I could come out of the shadows.”

After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s surprise announcement last week that the DREAM Act would be attached to national defense bill –- along with the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy –- immigration activists in Colorado and across the country mobilized to put pressure on lawmakers to vote for the bill.

Reform Immigration for America reports that supporters of the DREAM Act placed more than 48,000 calls and rallies were held coast-to-coast –- including one in front of Denver’s North Denver High School on Monday.

Activists have praised Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for co-sponsoring the DREAM Act.

Not surprisingly, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Ken Buck has stated that he would oppose the DREAM Act if elected.

Denver City Council member Paul Lopez, a supporter of the DREAM Act for “kids who are American whether they want to be or not,” had pointed criticisms for the Republicans in Senate who blocked the national defense bill and said that it will influence voters’ decisions in December: “These kids will never forget these politicians who actively tried to limit their future … Latino voters will absolutely remember this come November. We are paying attention, as will all the voters who value that which makes this country great.”

Julie Gonzales, Political Director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, also leveled heavy criticism at the GOP in a press release on Tuesday: “The question we have for the Republican opposition is: ‘ What are you thinking when you deny youth a chance to follow their dreams?’ The Republicans have shown us that they do not care about the Latino vote or the youth vote; all they care about is their failed strategy of ‘no’. It will come back to haunt them.”

Supporters of immigration reform are used to setbacks and all organizations vow to continue the fight. Lalo Montoya, a volunteer youth organizer with Padres y Jovenes said that the calls will continue and that the goal is now have the legislation introduced as a standalone bill in the next 10 days of the legislative session or in the lame-duck session after the election.

“The citizens support [the DREAM Act], we’ve got to keep up the pressure until we have this passed,” said Montoya.

Garcia, who cried when she heard the news of the GOP filibuster because she knew that she was going to have to put her life on hold that much longer, says while she is “sad, devastated, and disappointed,” she is “not about to give up until this is passed.”

“I wish these politicians would start to look at us as people and not numbers or a political issue,” said Garcia. “All we are asking for is an opportunity to go to school and live our lives in the country we call home.”

Taran Volckhausen is a freelance journalist who primarily writes about the environment, politics, and drug policy. His work has appeared on National Geographic, Christian Science Monitor, The Intercept, Mongabay, among others. He is also a former editor at Colombia Reports. Twitter: @tvolckhausen

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