The DREAM Shall Never Die

by Mario Lopez on December 21, 2010

Headlines claiming that Republicans blocked the DREAM Act this weekend give the party more credit than it deserves. Yes, Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the legislation from the get-go, but a handful of Democratic Senators are equally guilty of slamming the door shut on my dreams-and on so many others as well. We must hold them equally accountable.

The DREAM Act would have paved the way for thousands of undocumented students brought to the U.S. to become our future doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, and lawyers by creating a path towards earned citizenship. I would have benefited from this.

When I was four-years old, my mother and me came to the U.S. and settled in a predominantly Latino community called East Los Angeles. Approximately 20 years later, I am set to graduate in 2011 from the University of California, Berkeley with a diploma in Political Science and a minor in Public Policy. Without the DREAM Act, however, I will be unable to practice my degree to its fullest potential.

Through our national collective efforts, DREAM Activists and undocumented youth alike moved mountains in the form of GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski, Robert Bennett, and Richard Lugar. Each of these votes came in spite of the hateful lies that senior members of their party spewed. But our scornful eyes must also look closely at the other side of the aisle. Democratic Senators Max Baucus (MT), Jon Tester (MT), Kay Hagan (NC), Ben Nelson (NE), and David Pryor (AR) failed us – and the nation – badly.

Apparently, the five missed the memo by the Congressional Budget Office stating that DREAM would slash the Federal Deficit by $1.4 billion over the next decade. Apparently, they missed the UCLA study that found that the DREAM Act could pump up to $3.6 trillion into our economy over the next four decades. Apparently, they have forgotten about basic values like education and hard work.

Had these five Democratic Senators voted in favor of the DREAM Act cloture vote, DREAM would have easily attained the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster, bringing the final tally to 60-36 rather than 55-41. They must be held accountable. As one activist declared on Twitter Saturday night: “I will work to get you replaced come 2012.”

Still, there is a silver lining to today’s vote that brings me hope. People often refer to Congress as an “it” rather than as a “they” – lumping everyone into a single entity. Yet, 55 out of 100 Senators voted in favor of a very important piece of legislation. Does this not constitute a clear majority?

It means a lot that a clear majority of Senators recognize the absurdity of the situation in which my peers and I are trapped. I have been living in this country for approximately 20 years now. Each year, I get more anxious about what the future may hold for me and for my fellow undocumented peers. While my “documented” counterparts are able to plan their futures with a strong sense of conviction and entitlement to a bright future after graduation, I am stuck thinking about how I am going to get by this week and the next.

When the DREAM vote failed, I was dumbfounded, uncertain about whether I should be angry or sad, and then I just began to cry. I cried because I was reminded of all the pain and struggle I’ve had to endure these past few years as I pursue my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley.

As the pain, disappointment, and tears subside, I try to find the strength in my reserves to put myself back together. And as I tell myself how devastated I am and how I refuse to give up, I find it hard to believe my own words and thoughts. I tell myself if undocumented youth are not embraced into the fabric of our society, the U.S. will experience not solely a brain-drain (as many of them seek better lives in other welcoming countries), but it will experience a sort of social, cultural bankruptcy.

I think of my fellow DREAMers who graduated from college years ago, and are on the verge of “Aging-out” or have “Aged-out” out of DREAM. I think to myself that the outcome of the DREAM Act is more difficult for those DREAMers who have been at the forefront of this movement and have lived in the U.S. as undocumented for almost 20 years, as opposed to those who recently came 5 years ago.

I think of all those DREAMers whose deportations had been deferred for a year or so yet have court hearings come 2011. The urgency of the matter is felt differently for each of us. But despite how we feel, one thing is for certain – and that is that we are all affected by this issue.

I find comfort in the resiliency of my fellow DREAMers across the nation. The Facebook status updates that read: “We don’t just have hope, we are hope,” “I will not give up!,” “La lucha sigue” or “we won’t give up. 10 more years if we have to” along with the text messages from allied friends both near and far.

I am proud of all the work we have done leading the first national movement by and for undocumented people. The victories, both big and small, will continue to remind us of our strength and carry us till 2012. We now know who our targets are and will continue to put to practice everything we have learned throughout.

In the meantime, I will rest and enjoy the rest of my winter break. To all my fellow DREAMers nationwide, I say this to you: “When things go wrong as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, when the funds are low and the debts are high, and you want to smile but you have to sigh, when care is pressing you down a bit – rest if you must but don’t you quit.”

Mario Lopez is a Senior Political Science and Public Policy Minor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Co-Founder of the Bay Area DREAM Act Coalition, a multi-ethnic youth coalition in pursuit of the passage of the DREAM Act.

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