With Dream Act shelved, immigrants look to 2012
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 4:26 PM
Groups like The National Council of La Raza and other Hispanic and immigrant advocacy groups know the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform are dim for the time being. So they've turned their attention to a measure that they believe will spark more sympathy from most Americans, bringing with them a coalition of labor groups, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates. And come 2012, advocates say, Spanish-language media will be filled with ads slamming lawmakers who voted against the Dream Act.
"Many of us come from families with mixed (immigration) status. We can't vote, but our families and friends can," said Julieta Garibay, 29, one of the original "Dreamers" who has pushed for the Dream Act since it was first introduced in Congress in 2001. "Our allies will remember who voted, and how they voted, and will hold them accountable in 2012."
The Dream Act would provide qualified people up to the age of 29 with a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military, while mandating decades before they could petition for family. An estimated 2.1 million immigrants could be eligible, though it's likely a far smaller number would meet the bill's requirements.
"The Dream Act is extremely powerful for that reason because it impacts kids who came at a young age, who truly did whatever was asked of them, stayed out of trouble and just want to get educated or join the military," said America's Voice Deputy Director Lynn Tramonte.
Opponents have said it will hurt Americans at a time when the nation already faces 9.8 percent unemployment. Some also decried the age cap of 29.
"Those are pretty old kids," U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said during the House debate. Smith called the legislation "a nightmare," predicting the U.S. government would be unable to conduct background checks on all those applying.
Garibay, who came to Austin, Texas from Mexico City with her mother when she was 12, now has a master's in nursing but is unable to work in her chosen field because of her status. Yet she said she won't fade into the shadows after the vote. That, she said, is the biggest change from a decade ago.
"The first articles in the Spanish media that came out about us, there was a picture in the newspaper. We had these fearful faces," she recalled. "Now, our young students are coming out, saying 'we're undocumented, and unafraid.'"
More and more immigrants are taking up the phrase of the gay rights movement and "coming out" about their status, driven by desperation and the Obama administration's shift toward deporting criminals.
In January, a group of Miami Dream Act students walked from South
Florida to Washington, telling their stories to those they met along the
way. Students at Ivy League universities such as Brown and Columbia have
also spoken up about their illegal status.