Here’s a rarity in Washington, D.C. these days: bipartisan legislation supported by the president, leading conservatives, a vast majority of congressional Democrats, and a supermajority of the public. It’s the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to legal status for undocumented youth who demonstrate good moral character, graduate from high school, and go to college or join the military.
Sadly, what is not rare in the nation’s capital is the prospect of political gridlock over a worthy measure that advances the national interest and enjoys broad public support. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposed consideration of the DREAM Act before the election on grounds that it shouldn’t be part of the National Defense Authorization bill. Now a spokesman for the minority leader contends that bringing up the DREAM Act ignores the results of the November 2 election, which he suggests mandated an exclusive focus on cutting taxes.
But the American public expects Congress to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It wants Congress to extend tax cuts for the middle class, but it also wants Congress to pass the DREAM Act because educating kids and providing them an opportunity to serve their country makes sense for our economy, and it is the right thing to do.
The truth is that Sen. McConnell is stonewalling on this and other items because his top-stated priority is to prevent President Barack Obama from securing a second term. That means that if the president supports something he will urge his colleagues to block it.
The burgeoning network of youths calling for DREAM action hasn’t flinched in the face of this intransigence. When the defense authorization bill failed to advance the DREAMers didn’t break stride. In fact, they got bigger, louder, and stronger. And they marched on the lame duck session with singular purpose.
They refused to let political polarization trump the life story of Walter Lara, a 23-year-old from Argentina, who discovered he was undocumented when he was applying for college. Supporters would not acquiesce when political pundits proclaimed the issue dead, not when people such as Stephanie, who came from the Philippines as a toddler, work multiple minimum wage jobs to pay for their schooling. Once she graduates, Stephanie may never be able to use her degree because she lacks immigration status.
Mobilization in support of this bill has reached a tipping point after nearly a decade of activism around the issue. Its supporters will keep driving until this DREAM is a reality for hundreds of thousands of people. In the past couple of months alone they have organized protests and hunger strikes that have generated national media coverage, galvanized support from business and religious leaders in states across the country, and marched with veterans. They’ve also “outed” themselves on national television, risking arrest and deportation.
Momentum around the DREAM Act continues to grow: from California to Maine, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington state to the steps of the Capitol, and everywhere in between. These kids are rallying for hope. They are calling for justice, and they are seeking what we all want—a bona fide shot at the American DREAM. Let’s hope Congress overcomes its partisan bickering and gives them that shot.
Eduardo Garcia is an Advocacy Associate with Campus Progress and Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy at American Progress.
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