Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) just won’t let it go. And that’s a good thing when it comes to the DREAM Act, a bill that will provide a pathway to immigration compliance to thousands of undocumented students and young adults. Fueled by his passion for justice, Durbin is determined to see the DREAM Act become the law of the land. Others, like Senators Oren Hatch (R-Ut) and John McCain (R-Az) who originally co-sponsored DREAM, long ago fell victim to partisan politics and dropped their support for the decade old proposal. But today, Senator Durbin, who remains doggedly determined do the right thing, will chair the first ever hearing on the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act was originally conceived as a bipartisan measure to help a tiny segment of the undocumented population; the children of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as youngsters and who, through no fault of their own, now find themselves living in immigration limbo without legal status or a chance to build a future in the only country most have ever known. The DREAM Act was a bill that attracted broad bipartisan support because it helped helpless children.
That’s how the DREAM Act started out anyway.
But a funny thing happened since it was first introduced in 2001. The helpless children are no longer either helpless or children. They have grown up to contribute richly to America’s culture and social fabric. Today they are students, workers, artists, athletes and, as we learned last week, even Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. They include people like Gaby Pacheco, an extraordinary young woman who has, against all odds, earned advance degrees, and, at great personal risk, literally walked from Miami to Washington, D.C. to focus the country’s attention on the plight of the DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants; and Bernard Pastor of Cincinnati, Ohio who graduated in the top 5% of his class and led his high school varsity soccer team. And there are countless other DREAMers, including many adults, who have also, against all odds, managed to succeed. They are no longer dependent on their parents who brought them here or the immigration advocates who have tried to help them. Rather, they now look to themselves to fix the broken immigration system that plagues America.
The DREAMers coming of age and self-empowerment was clear to anyone who, like me, was fortunate enough to be at the U.S. Senate this past December when the DREAM Act last came before the Congress. Hundreds of DREAMers had come to Washington from across the country to lobby their Senators to vote for DREAM. Its passage in the House of Representatives days earlier gave many hope that their dreams would finally come true; that they would no longer be relegated to a life of uncertainty and fear – not accepted in the country they have struggled against all odds to enrich-and forced to fear being handcuffed and jailed just for driving on an expressway, applying for a job, or boarding a train, bus, or a plane without proper papers. For the first time in years it seemed that maybe, just maybe, Congress would finally offer a small segment of the undocumented population a pathway to earned compliance with the law and a chance to realize the American Dream.
But it was not to be–at least not on that day.
And while the Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act last December, what was clear to all those present on Capitol Hill that cold Saturday afternoon was that the movement to pass DREAM, and perhaps the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform itself, had passed to a new generation; a generation that is culturally, socially, and spiritually American. The DREAMers of today have become the sheppards of a critical civil rights movement which, like the epoch civil rights movement of the 1960s, will guide the future of immigration reform and, possibly, of this great nation. Like the Americans they are in their hearts and minds, they are not asking for anything. Instead, with dignity and integrity, they are rightfully demanding a chance to be part of the American family.
Most important, the students and young adults we call DREAMers have no intention of ever leaving America. After all, they are already home.