The U.S. Senate has voted 56-43 against taking up a defense bill with an amendment that would have included the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal status for undocumented youths who attend college or enlist in the military.
For a group of students who gathered to watch the televised vote in Los Angeles' Westlake district, the news was met with gasps and a few tears. But after nearly a decade of various incarnations of the measure circulating around Congress, the supporters quickly regained their determination.
"Now we're going to push for the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill," said Leslie Perez, 21, an undocumented UCLA student.
Perez, who dabbed at tears as the vote was read, and others said they were encouraged by a speech by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) that followed the vote; Durbin has long championed the proposed legislation.
"I'm sad, and it's going to take a bit longer, but after hearing Sen. Durbin's words I am re-energized," said Perez, who like other students in her position helps pay tuition with more than one job - including a housekeeping job - since undocumented students cannot receive public student loans.
Janeth Herrera Bucio, a 22-year-old Pasadena City College student, said that she was disappointed with arguments made by Senate opponents of the measure that it should not part of the Defense Authorization bill, when one of its provisions allows for undocumented youths to join the military.
"It's really upsetting," she said. "But we are going to keep fighting. The fight is not over. The vote was not a do-or-die."
Several bipartisan versions of the proposed legislation have been introduced in Congress since 2001, always falling short of the requisite support to move forward. It was last voted on in 2007. The current version of the DREAM Act was introduced in March of last year.
Last week, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that he would attach the DREAM Act to the defense bill, students and supporters have held numerous activities around the country in support in the measure. Some have set up impromptu phone banks from where they have spent several days calling legislators. The students gathered in Westlake today were at the UCLA Labor Center by McArthur Park, the site of one local phone banks.
A rally is scheduled at 3 p.m. today at the downtown federal building on Los Angeles Street, home of the Los Angeles field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Today's Senate vote also blocked a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, which was also part of the defense bill.