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A dream delayed

Marcelo Ballvé | 12/21/2010, 6:43 p.m.

Despite failure to win U.S. Senate approval, Dreamers remain hopeful to gain citizenship – even under a GOP-led Congress

Eighteen-year-old Francisco Curiel was present in the U.S. Senate chamber as the votes were tallied. His hopes alternately surged and crashed as each of the powerful legislators made their choice, “yea” or “nay,” on the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act — or Development, Education, and Relief for Alien Minors Act — would have provided a chance at legal residency for young undocumented immigrants like Curiel who want to finish high school and go on to college or the military.

Curiel’s presence in the ornate Senate gallery the morning of Dec. 17 — his hands clenching those of other undocumented immigrant students sitting with him — marked the culmination of a huge push to pass the DREAM Act this year.

But, in the end, the DREAM Act failed to win enough support to advance.

In a Saturday morning session as Congress raced to finish business before the holidays, it fell five votes short of the 60-vote “supermajority” needed to stave off a filibuster threat.

Thirty-six Republicans and five Democrats voted against advancing the DREAM Act. Fifty Democrats, three Republicans and two Independents voted in favor of it.

So the “DREAMers,” as the bill’s student supporters call themselves, were left asking, “Why?” and wondering what comes next.

“What is it that makes the legislators unable to see that this isn’t a favor we’re asking, but an opportunity to be allowed to contribute something?” asked Curiel after filing out of a Senate news conference.

At the conference, the DREAM Act’s proponents, including Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, had expressed their own disappointment over the act’s defeat.

“What happened today, to me, is beyond sad, because it’s a lose-lose for everybody,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the Senate’s only Latino member, pointed to the disproportionate number of “nay” votes coming from Republicans, and said he was “disheartened” by this partisanship.

But what Menendez failed to mention was that if all Democrats had voted to advance the act, it would have reached the needed 60 votes required to cut off a filibuster. Partisanship was not the whole story.

However, even in the midst of the legislative post-mortem, there were signs of hope for a new DREAM Act in the future — perhaps even in next year’s Congress.

The act did pick up Republican support, including votes from outgoing Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, Sen. Lisa Murkoswski of Alaska and Indiana’s Dick Lugar.

Sen. Bennett has even said recently that Republican colleagues in the lower house (where Republicans will have a majority beginning next year) are unhappy with the “specifics” of current DREAM legislation but might write their own version of the bill and send it up to the Senate next year.

“And as I’ve talked, particularly to my Republican friends, I’ve said we really need to do this,” Bennett said in a Dec. 10 news conference. “Their reaction has been to me, privately, ‘You’re right. We do really need to do it’”