09/22/2010

Senate Republicans Quash DREAM Act, for Now

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In a procedural vote on Sept. 21, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a vote on the DREAM Act. For nearly 10 years, AFT members and their students have been fighting to get this legislation enacted.

DREAM, short for the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors, is a measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who were brought as children to the United States by their parents.

The same vote on DREAM also quashed an amendment repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which would have allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military to serve openly. It was a day like many others in this term of Congress, when partisan grandstanding triumphed over governance, fairness and equity.

The vote was 56-43, with all Republicans voting against beginning debate of the 2011 defense authorization bill, to which the amendments were attached. Two Democrats from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, joined the Republicans. (Sen. Harry Reid [D-Nev.], who introduced the bill, changed his vote at the last minute to oppose, in a procedural move that will allow him to bring up the measure again at a later date.) The last time the Senate voted on the DREAM Act was in 2007. At that time, it was co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and drew eight Republican votes in support.

Every year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States. Along with their diplomas and honors, for many comes the knowledge that they cannot get a Social Security number, a driver's license, or aid or in-state tuition to help make college affordable. If they do graduate from college, they still can't find jobs. While for many, the United States is the only home they have known, they live in constant fear of deportation. Student supporters of the DREAM Act, who call themselves "Dreamers," put themselves in jeopardy when they openly speak about their status. Nonetheless, they descended on Washington, D.C., in recent days to tell their stories to senators and deliver petitions.

One was Dayanna Rebolledo, a student at Henry Ford Community College, whose parents brought her to Michigan from Mexico when she was 9. A member of a youth immigration group called One Michigan, she says she came to the nation's capital because "I believe this is something we can accomplish."

The DREAM Act provides a path to legal residency. Those who would qualify are people brought to this country before age 16, who have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, who have lived in the United States for at least five years, and who are of good moral character. The law would allow them to enroll in college or enlist in the military and, after service or completing two years of college, they could apply for legal permanent residency.

The AFT has supported passage of the DREAM Act since its inception, and AFT members flooded their senators with messages in the past week to urge a vote in support the bill. "College shouldn't just be a dream, but a reality, for all qualified students, including immigrants," said AFT president Randi Weingarten before the vote. "Demography—whether it's a student's background or birthplace should not be determinative of destiny."

Although the DREAM Act is stalled, supporters hope it will come up for another vote before the end of the congressional term.

"Students working on this have managed to spearhead a remarkable national mobilization," says Kent Wong, director of the Center for Labor Research and Education at UCLA. "They've built a grass-roots movement—organizing chapters, holding hunger strikes and rallies, reaching out to allies in labor, civil rights and faith organizations. This is precisely what it takes in order to keep the issue of DREAM on national agendas." [Barbara McKenna, Jennifer Scully]

September 22, 2010