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Next step on DREAM Act: A stand-alone bill, supporters say

Solemn DREAM Act supporters at a downtown rally after Tuesday's Senate vote, September 21, 2010
Solemn DREAM Act supporters at a downtown rally after Tuesday's Senate vote, September 21, 2010
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Today’s Senate vote blocking a defense bill that included the DREAM Act – proposed legislation that would create a path to legal status for undocumented youths who go to college or join the military – is being seen as a temporary hurdle by the bill’s supporters, some of whom rallied this afternoon in downtown Los Angeles following the vote.

“This is not the end for the DREAM Act, this is not the end for the bill, and this is definitely not the end for the immigrant youth movement,” said Carlos Amador, 25, an undocumented UCLA graduate student, addressing a small crowd outside the federal building at 300 N. Los Angeles Street.

The defense bill failed to win the 60 votes necessary for cloture, with 56 senators voting against it and 43 in favor. Votes were divided almost exclusively along partisan lines.

Several undocumented college students, graduates and other DREAM Act supporters spent the morning gathered at the UCLA Labor Center in Westlake, where they watched the televised vote on the bill carrying the DREAM Act, as well as a proposed repeal to the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy on gays in the military. With the bill's failure to move forward, both attached measures fell by the wayside.

Many of the students, most here since they were children, were visibly upset as they watched the news develop. For college students, the proposed legislation would have provided conditional legal status - as well as access to some public student financial aid - to qualifying youths who arrived here before age 16.

Janeth Herrera Bucio, 22, an undocumented Pasadena City College student, covered her mouth and gasped quietly when the results of the voting came in.

Leslie Perez, 21, in her fifth year as an UCLA undergrad while she works a restaurant job and a housekeeping job to pay tuition (undocumented students can't obtain public student loans), dabbed at tears afterward.

Amador, here since he was six years old, wrung his hands nervously during the voting. Afterward, he looked rattled.

“My mind is all over the place right now,” said Amador, who has helped pay his graduate tuition with the aid of small donations - as low as $20 - from friends and relatives after mounting an e-mail campaign. Still, he said, “we want to let everyone know that this is not over.”

After the tears and a few emotional hugs, however, the students in Westlake went back to what they have been doing at the center all week: Working the phones calling legislators, this time to push for the measure as a separate bill. With all the desks taken, Perez sat on the floor, calling local media on her cell phone to invite them to the rally.

In the afternoon, the Westlake students joined other DREAM Act supporters outside the downtown federal building, where the field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is located. Students and supporters said they want to use the use the public-awareness momentum they have created in recent months to push for a stand-alone bill.

“We are going to move forward on our original plan,” said Neidi Dominguez, a 23-year-old undocumented UC Santa Cruz graduate and student organizer who attended the rally.

Some conservative legislators who voted against the defense bill said they did not approve of attaching the DREAM Act as an amendment to a military bill. However, some have said they would consider voting for the immigration measure – which is as friendly to military recruiting as it is to education - as individual legislation. Several versions of the proposed legislation have been introduced since 2001.

Dominguez, who has been here since she was nine and jokingly calls herself “Neidi la abogada” (Neidi the lawyer, because she hopes to attend law school), said that the legislators which activists will focus on now are those who have said they would support a stand-alone bill.

“We are going to hold them accountable to that,” Dominguez said. “Also (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid. He’s up for re-election in November and he needs the Latino vote in Nevada, and we’re going to hold him accountable, too.”

Pro-DREAM Act websites are already urging supporters to target Reid, who last week announced that the proposal would be tacked onto the defense bill. A suggested phone script posted on the DREAM Activist site reads:

“Hi I am calling to leave a message for Senator Reid. Please stop playing politics with the DREAM Act. I am calling to ask that he immediately bring it up for a vote as a stand-alone bill. Thank you.”

The small rally downtown lasted a little more than hour, drawing about three dozen people. Additional rallies and other activities are scheduled in California and other states this week.