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Young People Vow to Keep DREAM Alive

December 20, 2010

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

The young adults sitting in front of me in the Senate gallery clasped hands as the votes for proceeding with the DREAM Act began. Their actions were mirrored in the rows of young people, many of them also with heads bowed in prayer, seated on the other side of the chamber viewing area.

The reactions were muted with each audible “yes” or “no.” A staff member had reminded them just beforehand of the rules of decorum for Senate visitors. But an occasional groan escaped with a “no” vote cast by someone on whom they had pinned some hope of support; an arm raised in the air expressed pleasure with a previously iffy “yes” vote.

At least 60 votes were needed for cloture, or ending debate to actually vote on the legislation itself. The final vote was 55 for, 41 against.

Most of the young people filed out immediately, trying to digest that they were only 5 votes short of realizing their dreams — symbolized by the graduation caps and gowns many wore — of going to college and pursuing the careers that would follow.

There were plenty of tears at the United Methodist Building across the street from the Capitol, where dozens of young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act gathered with their supporters for prayer and commiseration.

“It was so frustrating,” one young woman said of the pent-up anxiety during the vote. “We had to be silent, but I wanted to scream.”

Yet her tears and those of many of the young people who had come from Wisconsin and Massachusetts and Texas and Oklahoma were already turning to impressive determination to continue the struggle for the DREAM Act, and beyond that, comprehensive immigration reform that would reunite families and allow undocumented persons to earn legal status.

“I haven’t seen my family for four years, and I miss them so much,” one young woman said, and the tears resumed flowing. Others voiced that they would now work toward legislation not just for themselves, but also for their parents and sisters and brothers.

Those who are U.S. citizens vowed to replace legislators who voted against the DREAM Act. Young people who are undocumented promised to keep involved in advocacy, despite the demands of schoolwork, jobs and family and the stress of knowing that they or a family member could be deported at any time.

One young woman, like many others, spoke triumphantly of becoming empowered and learning that her voice was being heard despite the close vote. She called her high school graduation “a false promise,” but the Senate’s vote a real graduation from the School of Hard Knocks from which she can march into a future she and others will continue to try to build together.

Another young woman summed up the overwhelming feeling in the room: “We are strong. We are dreamers.”

You can join these young people in the first step of keeping the DREAM alive bycontacting your senators to express appreciation or disappointment in their votes.

Please also consider making a New Year’s Resolution for immigration reform in 2011.

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