In a year marked by increased raids, travel bans, and repeated threats to DACA, the bipartisan reintroduction of the DREAM Act stands as a small victory for immigrant rights groups. While its passage is not certain, its chances are far from hopeless if immigrant communities continue to engage allies.
Senator Dick Durbin first introduced the DREAM Act in 2001 to create a multi-step path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who, like me, arrived as minors. It would allow long-term residents who entered the country as minors to apply for conditional permanent residency and eventually citizenship if they first meet certain educational, military, or employment requirements.
Opponents of the DREAM Act argue that it would inspire a wave of illegal border crossings. This is a myth. Only those who can prove that they entered before the age 18 and had been continuously present in the United States for at least four years prior to the date of enactment would be eligible for conditional residency. The DREAM Act is also not amnesty. The path to citizenship would take at least thirteen years. I would be 40 years old when I could naturalize.
In 2010, the DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives but failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate. This time we can get it through. Assuming full Democratic support, we need at least nine additional Republican votes to avoid a filibuster. That number is not out of reach if we consider that seven current Republican Senators voted for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, and two others support legislation protecting DACA recipients from deportation.
Its prospects in the House of Representatives are dire than in the Senate, but not hopeless. A major obstacle in the House is that many congressional districts lack sufficient immigrant presence, making it easier for representatives to vote against the bill. Although Latino and Asian Americans tend to have a more recent connection to immigration, a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group shows that a majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Dreamers alone cannot push Congress to act. We also need allies to do so, especially in states like Pennsylvania where immigrants do not comprise a significant electorate. Allies add financial resources and electoral power to our movement. I have been encouraged by the support I have encountered across the state from people not directly impacted by the failures of our immigration system. It is our responsibility to educate and mobilize them. Failing to do so is tantamount to malpractice.
What about President Trump, the man who built his political career on promises of merciless enforcement? Despite opposition from his base, Trump has softened his stance on DREAMers and has yet to end DACA, a discretionary policy allowing DREAM Act eligible youth to temporarily live and work in the United States.
DACA made it possible for me to complete two graduate degrees, to pursue opportunities abroad, and find employment that I am passionate about. Its full impact, however, is more subtle. I feel it every time I drive past a police car knowing I am licensed to drive, or when I don’t stress about what to put on under Social Security in an application, or when I confidently advocate for the rights of my community.
Now DACA is once again under threat. Passing the DREAM Act would provide us a path to citizenship and with it a level of security that DACA cannot. Our futures will no longer be at the mercy of the courts or whoever occupies the White House.
Our community won DACA because we organized and fearlessly shared our stories with America. As we continue to build our power, let us reject language that denigrates our parents for doing their best for us. They have in many cases sacrificed their dreams and well being so that we may realize ours. Accepting a rhetoric that absolves us while convicting our parents for bringing us to this country makes us accomplices in their continued marginalization. Let us move forward without exploiting their struggle for our benefit.
Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra is a graduate of Amherst and Cambridge Universities and currently works for the Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition (PICC).