The DREAM Act was dealt a blow this week, but it’s already back for more. On Wednesday, the day after the defense authorization bill failed to clear a motion for cloture in the U.S. Senate and stalled efforts to attach the immigration bill and a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as amendments, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin reintroduced the DREAM Act.
The move clears the way for the bill, which would offer undocumented youth raised in the U.S. an opportunity to gain citizenship if they commit to two years in the military or college. In order to qualify for the DREAM Act, young people must have been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived in the country for at least five years, hold a high school diploma and have a clean criminal record. The bill would benefit almost a million young people, by some estimates.
Durbin’s latest move clears the way for the DREAM Act to be reintroduced as a stand alone bill, bypassing the judiciary committee. Durbin introduced the bill with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar. DREAM Act advocates have confirmed that the bill was added onto the Senate’s legislative calendar on Thursday but without a firm date attached to it. However, while they don’t foresee that the bill will be acted on before the November midterm elections, there’s still a small window during the lame duck session between November and January.
Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez has said that should the bill clear the Senate, he’s confident it would pass the House. “I believe there are at least 218 votes in the House to pass the DREAM Act,” Gutierrez wrote this week, urging Senate Republicans not to stall on the defense authorization bill. Should the DREAM Act actually get pushed as a stand alone bill, Republicans are already ready to water the bill down and attach amendments to it. This is not new though. In 2007 when the DREAM Act was also being discussed, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson wanted to change the language of the bill so that instead of giving DREAM Act-eligible young people green cards, they would receive renewable work permits before being able to qualify for citizenship. In the past Republicans also have called to bring down the age cap on the DREAM Act, which would limit the number of young people who could benefit from the bill.
There is still another option for the bill. After the cloture motion failed on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a motion to immediately reconsider the vote, leaving open the possibility that he will take up the issue again after the election. The hope is that moderate Republicans unencumbered by the elections will be more willing to break away from the immigration hawks of their party to vote for the bill.
DREAM Act activists plan to keep pushing for DREAM Act support from Sens. Scott Brown, George LeMieux and Susan Collins, who said during the Senate floor debate on Tuesday that they would support the DREAM Act as a stand alone bill. “What we know is, is that they are potential votes,” said Matias Ramos, a DREAM Act activist and board member for the group United We Dream. Ramos called their remarks “a silver lining” from the failed Tuesday vote.
Either way, DREAM Act advocates who have been strategically increasing public pressure on congressional leaders with intense lobbying, hunger strikes and civil disobedience all year, have no plans to back off. They are planning another escalation right after the elections are over.
“We’re going to be ready to push, and push hard,” said Ramos.
Reprinted with permission of ColorLines magazine, www.colorlines.com.