Immigrant Youth Dreams Denied; Still They Persevere
DREAM Act fails in Senate.
By Gloria Alvarez and Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writers
Last Saturday was a sad day for millions of young undocumented immigrants, their families and supporters, as the passage of the DREAM Act fell short in the Senate and backers were unable to overcome a bipartisan filibuster of the measure that would have given some young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
The final vote was 55 to 41 on Dec. 18, five short of the 60 needed to advance the bill for final debate in the Chamber.
The vote was widely viewed as the last best chance for some measure of immigration reform this year.
Heavily pushed by the Latino community and immigrant rights groups, passage was considered a long overdue down payment on Pres. Obama’s promise to act on immigration reform.
Much more restrictive than former versions of the bill, the DREAM Act would have given some young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, if they entered the US before age 16, had lived here for at least 5 years, graduated high school or received a GED and if they completed two years of college or two years in the military. The process, which included a number of fees, would take 10 years to complete.
Supporters of the measure said it is unfair to penalize young people who through no choice of their own entered the country illegally, and for the most part, know no other home than the US.
Opponents saw the DREAM Act as a step toward amnesty, and hailed its failure.
“With the DREAM Act and other amnesty proposals off the table, the [next] Congress will have an opportunity to implement immigration reforms that place the interests and concerns of the American people ahead of those of illegal aliens,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), in a statement hours after the vote.
Locally, immigrant rights groups held viewing parties for the Senate, which they expected to come in the late afternoon; but the vote and crushing disappointment came hours earlier.
With emotions running high, a group of students and supporters marched in the rain from the CHIRLA office on 3rd Street to the UCLA Labor Center several blocks away in MacArthur Park.
There, students spoke out, comforted each other and allowed themselves to be interviewed by the many media outlets covering the breaking news.
Isaac Barrera was surrounded by DREAM Act students and supporters at a viewing party when he heard the vote. He is a Boyle Heights resident and Pasadena City College student.
“At first I didn’t know they were done [voting], I was still hopeful for it,” he said. “Everybody was like wow, there’s so much emotions running wild, everybody was all down, and crying there were tears everywhere.”
Barrera, 20, was in the first graduating class of the Ed Roybal Learning Center. He wants to become a professional photographer and plans to transfer to UCLA or Cal State Northridge.
While he barely remembers immigrating at the age of five, the painful memory of crossing the border illegally is still an open wound for his family.
He said his father came first, than sent for his mother and him and his brother. “Just like many of the kids here, their parents risked their whole life to come to this country, and then for politicians to play with us like this—all that struggle, all that sacrifices goes out the window.”
Barrera said people should know the tragedy of being denied the DREAM Act.
“All those politicians who probably have never met an undocumented person in their life. It’s real; it’s something that’s happening. It’s very real. I’m here and I’m undocumented. It’s real,” he said still processing the sad news.
Francisco Arias, a student at Los Angeles Valley College, was among the undocumented students who marched from CHIRLA’s office to the Labor Center. Arias said he felt a strong sense of unity marching with his peers.
“Together we are unafraid of the government and that’s the way it should be. In democracy the government has to be afraid of the people, not the people from the government. And they have to protect us and they have to embrace our future so we can give back to this country,” he told EGP.
Arias just earned his Associate’s Degree in Computer Science and hopes to transfer to UCLA. He was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the US at the age of 14. He thought the passing of Bush-era tax cuts had secured republican votes for the DREAM Act.
Arias said he feels deceived.
“[I don’t know] why they want to criminalize us, the ones who have chosen [education], a higher way to life. I think it’s unfair and we didn’t see justice today in the Senate, we saw corrupted interest,” he said.
Arias said “America failed this time” and the world was watching. “I hope they change their mind, hopefully soon,” he said.
Arias had hoped the DREAM Act would open the way for him to become documented, continue his education and become employed in order to finance his education.
“I could get a job doing something to pay for my education, to pay for a four-year university but they denied us that dream we had. But the battle is not over, right now. The battle is over when we accept the defeat and we haven’t accepted it yet, we’re going to keep fighting for 10, 20, 30 years because we fight for what is right,” he said.
He plans to apply for independent scholarships and find cash-paying jobs related to computer repair, he told EGP.
Erick Huerta, 26, a Boyle Heights resident and local blogger, was also at the UCLA Labor Center.
“I woke up to the vote, we were celebrating—sort of preemptive celebrating the night before—and I woke up around 8:30 and it was like five minutes before the no-vote. I was still kind of half asleep and hadn’t processed it but now it’s starting to hit me slowly,” he said.
Huerta is a journalism student at East Los Angeles College and a member of DREAM Team Los Angeles. He plans to transfer to Cal State Northridge or the University of Southern California.
While the DREAM Act’s failure was bad news, Huerta pointed out that while things are not getting any better, they’re not really getting worse either.
“It hasn’t changed anything. I’m still undocumented, I’m still going to finish school. I’m still going to do what I’ve always been doing except now it’s a little more depressing because I have to wait that much longer,” he said. “But if I have to wait much longer for the DREAM Act I’ll probably end up aging out because I’m already 26. That’s one of the possibilities.”
San Gabriel resident Sergio Salazar wore a cap and gown for the vote. He recently graduated with a double major in Political Science and International Studies from California Lutheran University; he previously attended Pasadena City College.
Salazar was born in Mexico but has been in the US since he was a year and half old. He considers himself an undocumented American.
“I do exist, this is my country, I’m an American,” he said. “I’m disappointed with what happened today with the Senate because I was hoping that the Senate was going to vote with their conscience. I’m an example of how the immigration system is broken. I actually went through the legal way to try to become documented.”
Salazar’s mother remarried and their immigration paperwork fell through when his step-father passed away, “so the DREAM Act was the only way that lawyers have told me that I can get legalized.”
He said he hid his legal status until recently when he felt compelled to join other undocumented students and ask for the DREAM Act to be passed.
“The way I see it is, if we get deported and we don’t tell our stories, it’s as if we never existed in the US. So I’d rather get deported while the world is watching. I’d rather get deported knowing that at least my story got told,” he said.
Salazar says he will continue to fight and will not “go down with my head down.”
“I’m going to continue to fight because I know that there are other undocumented students and other unknown Americans out there that are looking for someone to represent them and I feel that that has been my calling right now,” he said. “If they’re listening I just want them to not to be afraid because there is hope, maybe it’s not the hope that we want, but eventually we will achieve it.”Print This Post
December 23, 2010 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.