How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A candlelit rally in L.A. as Dream Act vote nears

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With a vote on the Dream Act expected as early as tomorrow, enthusiasm mixed with jangled nerves tonight at a candlelight rally held by supporters in downtown Los Angeles.

Close to two hundred people showed up outside La Placita Church near Olvera Street, some wearing caps and gowns, many holding votives and picket signs. Clergy leaders that included Cardinal Roger Mahony, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, led participants in prayer.

"We are walking with you, and we will be with you until this is accomplished," Mahony told the crowd.

It may take a while. A vote on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant conditional legal status to undocumented youths who attend college or join the military, could take place in both the Senate and the House as early as tomorrow. However, chances appears slim for the proposed legislation. This is particularly true in the Senate, where it has failed to win the necessary Republican support to pass, even after a tightened version of the bill was introduced last week.

Various versions of the bill have been introduced over nearly a decade without success. Most recently, a version of the measure failed in September after a Senate defense bill it was attached to was voted down. If the bill does not make it through the lame duck session as the 111th Congress winds to a close, its chances will be reduced to nil when more conservative lawmakers arrive in January.

The students, graduates, and parents at the rally tonight held onto hope.

"I have mixed feelings," said Luis Huerta, 25, a Rio Hondo Community College journalism student who came with his family from Mexico City when he was five. "This has been going on since 2001. I want to see it pass, but I'm afraid they might play political games and not do anything."

Huerta was one of several undocumented college students and graduates who, as the evening went on, stepped up to the podium to share their stories. A young man wearing a cap and gown said he had arrived here with his family as an infant. A young woman working on a graduate teaching degree, also here since childhood, said she wouldn't be able to teach if she can't adjust her status. A middle-aged woman came up and spoke about her two sons, one a recent college graduate with a science degree.

"In the end, no company has hired my son because of his status," said the mother, Young Nam Choi, who said her family has tried without success to obtain legal status since they arrived from South Korea 16 years ago, when the boys were young. "I don't want for their talent, their ability, to be wasted."

A Cal State Fullerton communications graduate named Patricia, who declined to give her last name, said she'd like to work in broadcast if she could work legally, perhaps as a political reporter. She arrived here with her family from Mexico City at age seven. Blond and blue-eyed, she said she identifies as American, and keeps her undocumented status a secret.

"My friends don't know," she said. "I have to make up excuses as to why I can't leave the country."

Asked what she would do if the latest version of the Dream Act failed to pass, she said, "I don't want to think about if it doesn't pass."

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