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.”

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December 23, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


6 Responses to “Immigrant Youth Dreams Denied; Still They Persevere”

  1. SingleMom on December 23rd, 2010 2:32 pm

    Illegal immigrants are ruining our already fragile economy by not following the laws in place to protect our country from being overrun and victimized by foreigner invaders. $52 million was given to illegal immigrants for their anchor babies last July in Los Angeles County alone. For the truly innocent foreigners who are a burden to this country through no fault of their own, the fault lies with their parents, not U.S. taxpayers! Get in line with law-abiding foreigners applying for citizenship and stop sponging off us and jeopardizing our children’s futures!

  2. HilClimber on December 23rd, 2010 4:35 pm

    In the news was this quote: “As long as these young people are determined to be part of this great nation, I am determined to fight for them to call America home,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the bill’s main champion.” referring to the defeat of the DREAM Act, the true nightmare for America. The talk shows have already started with what is to happen next to get amnesty for illegal aliens. What is this, a bizarro world?

    Our need is not to figure out how we can let illegal aliens remain in the United States, our need is to get the illegal aliens off our land, off our roads, out of our schools, and out of our pocket. None of what I have seen yet addresses the needs of the American Citizen – to prosecute these lawbreakers, the interlopers infesting my country. I am not trying to find a spare room for the burglar who broke into my home, I am trying to find the gun to protect my home and family from the burglar. We need to take to task such people in a position of authority who have failed to act according to their oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Our elected officials are not in office to perpetuate their own tenure or the future of their respective political party, they are there to serve me, the American Citizen. Some, like Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Task Force on Immigration need to be taken before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities for his attempt to subvert the Laws of the United States of America.

    The Supreme Court currently has before it in consideration portions of the Arizona Law SB1070 that provides both use of a eVerify requirement to confirm eligibility for someone to work in that state along with penalties that would remove the business license and therefore the option to continue operating for employers who hire illegal aliens. With one Justice recusing herself from the consideration, a 50/50 (there are a total of nine Justices for the uninformed) split on the bill would leave the law intact and Arizona would have set standard that assuredly would be adopted in all of the 50 states.

    It is our need to assure that America remains as a beacon for honesty and hope (despite George Walker Bush), as an example of what can be done when a society has a strong system of government with respect for laws (despite George Walker Bush). It is not a suggestion that the hopeless and helpless come here – your burden would destroy exactly what you seek. Instead, work in your own country to reach a higher ideal, a better system. We willingly share our knowledge and experience. We will not share our land and resources nor pay for your lacking. If you have too many people to feed, then have less children but we’ll share our agricultural knowledge. If you can’t solve your own problems, then we’ll come to you to help. Anyway that adds up though, you are not coming to my country. It is time to take the plaque off the statue – immigration is over!

    The job is not done. Please see and consider supporting NumbersUSA.Com, and Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIRUS.Org). With these actions, the Citizens of the United States of America will continue to grow, to innovate, and evolve. The world, if it chooses to do so, can improve itself. Christ in the Bible is quoted as saying “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” The statement is still true.

  3. A on December 23rd, 2010 5:04 pm

    Heh. I agree with the sentiment behind the Dream Act – I do disagree with the broad details of the law as it is- but I’m also terribly amused at the sense of entitlement – I think that’s the word – these children feel towards the government. I came to the the US legally when I was 11 and I had previously lived in two other foreign countries – a progessive Middle Eastern country and an European one.

    My parents and I were never citizens of any of those countries. I could never think of demanding rights that were not mine to demand from said nations. Maybe it’s a good thing that the U.S. allows such freedoms. But it foments a lack of respect from myself and others towards the country. I can’t think of another nation in the world that would allow such circumstances around peoples in the their nations illegally. Perhaps Canada but I doubt even them. Most countries around the world are tough on legal citizens even. (My brother was born in a country that he was not native to and he never got their citzenship) Ah well. Maybe the Dream Act can come back on the table with some of the details changed. I find the upper age limit of 30 to be ridiculous, for example. Compromise is the only way that it can happen.

  4. Ironweed on December 27th, 2010 11:41 am

    It is really amazing to see all the coddling of illegal immigrants, and organizations are popping up to ensure their fair and humane treatment? That is some sort of wild joke.

    Our President has given us more than enough to impeach him for subversion of federal laws and treason.

  5. fred smith on December 29th, 2010 5:35 am

    ” they have to protect us ,they have to embrace our future” says one schoolboy illegal. Does he really think he has the right to implement only his own objectives at the expense of others? Did his parents really teach him that.?He doesnt have that right ;so he trys to steal it and steal american citizenship.The American fokes cried “thieves” thieves” loud and repeately and the senate heard them.”Just get out of the country and stay out is the message here” The political reality is that Americia has finally woke up to the threat of illegals , and as never before is going to be on the offesive in the next congress.Puttingthe intrests of the American people ahead of the intrests of illegal alieans is the way alot of these guys got elected and they want to stay in office so wont forget that.

  6. Seppo on June 23rd, 2011 1:31 pm

    You people commenting about “get these thieves out of my country” do not appear to have read the article. At least those profiled are a) mostly here and illegal through no fault of their own and b) trying to do something which can only enrich and benefit America… get a higher education and work hard. They are not here trying to freeload any more than any citizen by birth, and there is abundant research saying that adding to the educated populace will enrich a country, not detract from it. If you really love America, as you claim, you should welcome the fact that intelligent, driven young people want to stay here here and contribute to it.

    I can understand the argument “They should go back to Country X and make it a better place”, as it acknowledges that they WILL make wherever they are a better place. But to tell somebody who was brought here by his parents when he was four to “go back where he came from” is not too far removed from me telling you to “go back to Ireland or Germany and make it a better place”.

    Also, do you realize how very, very difficult it is to come here legally? Particularly if you are not wealthy and do not have a PhD? This is a fairly new development in the history of America, and I’m not a historian but I’d venture to say that America is great, precisely because she’s historically not been very picky about who she lets in, and had an open society that lets driven individuals succeed. Is it fair to other countries, to claim these people, so we can be even richer and better? Maybe not. But to say it’s damaging to America is just ridiculous.

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