Reform Ahora director Michael Flores says the DREAM Act is a path to success, not a free ride.
Las Vegans who worked to get the federal DREAM Act passed are recharging, retooling and refocusing in the wake of the bill’s death.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM, would have granted six years of temporary residency for those who came to the U.S. as illegal immigrants before the age of 16 and have been in the country at least five years. Within those six years, a person could earn permanent residency by completing at least two years of college or serving at least two years in the armed forces with an honorable discharge. The DREAM Act was amended to a defense-spending bill that was killed by a Republican filibuster Sept. 21. A bill that would have repealed the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” law was also amended to the defense bill and suffered a similar fate.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he plans to bring up the DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, again in the lame-duck session of Congress after the November congressional elections.
Meanwhile, local groups such as Reform Ahora and the Nevada Hispanic Institute are continuing their letter-writing and canvassing campaigns to get people involved in the political process. They are having some luck using the DREAM Act’s death as a recruiting tool. “A lot of young people involved in the rallies, protests and town halls felt disheartened after the bill died, but it’s turning into motivation,” says Michael Flores, director of Reform Ahora, an organization that works toward immigration reform.
The Nevada Hispanic Institute met its goal of registering 10,000 Valley voters two days early last week. Artie Blanco, the Institute’s director, attributes the success to people hearing about the DREAM Act not passing. “We’ve held electoral classes and people want to know more about the DREAM Act, saying that’s why they want to become an active voter,” she says. “The DREAM Act issue is mobilizing Latinos to want to participate.
Flores says Reform Ahora will continue to meet weekly to keep members updated and educated on opposition to the DREAM Act, which seems to be evolving. “First, it was that undocumented people were hurting the economy,” Flores says. “Then the language changed to homeland security and that the border wasn’t secure. Now the major argument is amnesty. They think it’s a free ticket. But it’s not; it’s citizenship—learning the laws, language and paying taxes.” A Reform Ahora-affiliated high school is close to securing Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle for a meeting with its Hispanic Student Union, Flores says. (He didn’t want to name the school until the meeting is set.) Reform Ahora is also continuing to add to the 10,000 calls it has already made to U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. “We’re trying to engage elected officials in conversation. We should have access to these people. Our own senator won’t even meet with us.” Ensign’s office did not return a phone call for comment.
Both groups say they will continue the dialogue with elected officials, calling for the bill to be reintroduced, but not as stand-alone legislation. “If it’s a standalone, obviously Democrats and Republicans won’t want to work on it together,” Flores says.
Opponents of the DREAM Act say undocumented young people have enough options under the current law. “These students can apply to college on student visas like any other foreign student,” says Ira Mehlman, media director for FAIR, The Federation of American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that aims to stop illegal immigration.
The DREAM Act would have provided in-state tuition, and allowed students to apply for loans and work-study programs. Liz Hernandez, a sophomore at UNLV and organizer for Reform Ahora, says many of her undocumented peers didn’t pursue college because of the expense.
“I have friends who could be great web designers, photographers or political science majors who can’t afford it. I have friends who want a master’s. But how are they going to pay for it?” she says.
There is a lack of motivation among undocumented students because they know they won’t be able to stay in the country and work after college, Flores says.
“Latinos have the highest drop-out rate because they don’t see a future and think they’ll have to become a day laborer. That’s the reality they see.”
Flores is hopeful Reid will come through on his promise to resuscitate the act in November. But Reid himself may be a lame duck in the lame-duck session, so the fate of the DREAM Act remains to be seen.