Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Top five immigration stories of 2010, #2: The Dream Act

A student's bold statement, December 8, 2010
A student's bold statement, December 8, 2010
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act wasn't new when 2010 rolled around. The proposed legislation, which would have granted conditional legal status to undocumented young people who attended college or joined the military, had already been knocking around Congress for almost a decade when it was reintroduced last year.

Still, this year has been the Dream Act's biggest by far. After failing as an attachment to a Senate defense bill voted down in September, it was introduced again as a stand-alone bill. In December, it came as close as it ever has to becoming law, clearing the House Dec. 8, but falling five votes short of cloture in the Senate ten days later. The most recent version, tightened and reintroduced in late November, would have allowed young people under 30 to apply for legal status if they met all the requirements, including having arrived before age 16.

What made the Dream Act one of the year's most significant immigration stories, however, is less its close brush with success as the unprecedented student movement that carried the bill forward. Undocumented college students around the country went public with their status, many of them risking arrest and deportation as they participated in caravans to Washington, D.C. to stage rallies and sit-ins. They and other students, including U.S. citizen friends and classmates, manned makeshift phone banks before each vote, dialing legislators for their support.

Some went public with their status voluntarily, including prominent students like David Cho, drum major of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, and Jose Salcedo, a student leader in Miami. One of the best-remembered stories was that of CSU Fresno's student body president Pedro Ramirez, a high school valedictorian who had tried to keep his status a secret, but was outed in the campus newspaper. After confirming that he was undocumented - his family brought him here when he was three - he expressed relief about opening up. He then joined the student movement.

The Dream Act was supported by a slim majority of U.S. voters, according to one poll, but it produced bitter controversy between supporters and opponents, who argued that, among other things, it would increase overall immigration as its beneficiaries gradually became able to sponsor relatives, and that it would cost money. A Congressional Budget Office report estimated that the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $1.4 billion over the first 10 years, though costs would rise eventually as the youths became permanent legal residents and U.S. citizens, eligible for the same social benefits as other Americans.

Last week, President Obama referred to the Dream Act's defeat as his "biggest disappointment." Students and other supporters have vowed to continue pushing for the legislation, though its chances of success during the next two years appear slim to none. Republican leaders, poised to take leadership of the House, have stated that they will pursue more stringent immigration measures, among them enforcement-related bills and a challenge to the 14th Amendment, which presently grants U.S. citizenship to those born here, including the children of undocumented immigrants.

Other top immigration stories of the year reviewed this week in Multi-American: Secure Communities and 287(g), the Obama administration's record deportations, and last summer's massacre of U.S.-bound migrants in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.