On Tuesday, Senate republicans, with the help of two Arkansas democrats, successfully blocked the new pentagon spending bill. Which included the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ along with the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would serve as a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth looking to go to college or the military. The Real News spoke with three undocumented advocates about the significance of the DREAM Act.
Produced by Malak Behrouznami and Jesse Freeston
MALAK BEHROUZNAMI, PRODUCER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Tuesday in the US Senate, the 2011 defense authorization bill covering the Pentagon’s $725 billion projected budget was filibustered by Republicans and two Arkansas Democrats. Their opposition wasn’t to funding the military but to the two bills that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added on as amendments. Among the bills was the DREAM Act, which seeks to find a path to citizenship for undocumented youth wishing to join the military or attend college. Investigative reporter Erin Rosa has been following the DREAM Act for Narco News.
ERIN ROSA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NARCO NEWS: Another controversial issue was also proposed as an amendment to the bill, and that was don’t ask, don’t tell, the repeal of that policy, which would allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. The defense authorization bill itself was a standalone bill. Keep in mind the DREAM Act was simply going to be an amendment to the bill. So basically the Republicans in the Senate stopped even debate on making an amendment to the bill, because they didn’t like the way amendments would be added to it in the first place.
BEHROUZNAMI: To be eligible for the DREAM Act, applicants must be less than 35 years old, entered the country before the age of 16, have lived in the US five consecutive years prior to the enactment of the legislation, earned a high school diploma or its equivalent, and exhibited good moral standing.
ALEXANDRA VALENZUELA, ORGANIZER, PROMISE ARIZONA: Everything was going well until I found out I was undocumented.
BEHROUZNAMI: Phoenix’s Alexandra Valenzuela is one of roughly two million undocumented youths who are currently ineligible for in-state tuition or government student loans.
VALENZUELA: High school year, couldn’t fill out my FASFA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid]. Had a 4.0 GPA, was doing great, involved in my community, clubs, and then they told me I can’t go to college ’cause I don’t have enough money and I can’t get money from the government. So I’ve been here, you know, more than half of my life, and I feel like this is my country.
BEHROUZNAMI: Valenzuela is one of many undocumented youths who have risked deportation by going public with their support for the DREAM Act.
YAHAIRA CARRILLO, ORGANIZER, MISSOURI DREAM ALLIANCE: I was detained in Tucson, Arizona. I did a sit-in on May 17 of this year, which is actually the first—what’s recorded—instance of undocumented people doing civil disobedience.
BEHROUZNAMI: Yahaira Carrillo of the Missouri DREAM Alliance occupied the office of Senator John McCain.
CARRILLO: So we were arrested, and we were transferred over to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. So I along with two of my friends are now in deportation proceedings, and it’s intense.
BEHROUZNAMI: On Tuesday it was Senator McCain who led the way in the blocking of the bill.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): This is a blatant political ploy in order to try to galvanize the political base of the other side, which is facing a losing election. That’s why–
BEHROUZNAMI: McCain may be right, but for DC-based journalist Carlos Quiroz, this is about opportunities for undocumented youth, not Democratic Party politicians.
CARLOS QUIROZ, JOURNALIST: These people deserve a chance in life. And when I talk about these people, I want to mention something that I had never mentioned before. I came to this country as an immigrant with documents, but I overstayed my visa, and I know I can tell you how hard it is for people with all the qualifications and the willingness to be more productive in this country. And not being able to do that is—.
BEHROUZNAMI: Quiroz was over 16 years old when he first arrived in the US, so he is ineligible for the DREAM Act. Yet he supports it nonetheless.
QUIROZ: I can tell you that most of these kids are poor working-class students who want, actually, to overcome poverty by educating themselves, to later contribute to the society. So the long-term benefits for this country is undeniable. They will become productive citizens. They already are productive citizens, but they don’t have the document that proves that.
BEHROUZNAMI: When it was first proposed in 2001, the DREAM Act was intended to be part of a larger, comprehensive immigration reform. Since then, advocates have decided to push for the bill on its own.
CARRILLO: We see that the first step is the DREAM Act, and we do it because, you know, we feel like we have to. We need to fight not just for ourselves, but we need to fight for our community if we want some change. We can’t expect other people to do it for us.
BEHROUZNAMI: Because the DREAM Act would allow undocumented youth to gain citizenship through military service, the act can be added on to a war funding bill, along with the don’t ask, don’t tell repeal. Some have criticized the fusion of these issues. Carrillo disagrees.
CARRILLO: We are at an intersection. You know, some of us are both LGBT and undocumented and want to join the military. So, you know, it’s, like, these various issues that have come together and that some people don’t see as being one, but it really is for a lot of people. You can’t break them apart. So it just makes sense.
BEHROUZNAMI: Opponents see the DREAM Act as a proposal for targeted amnesty that would allow students to obtain citizenship for the family members that brought them here illegally. Senator Jeff Sessions has been a vocal critic of the DREAM Act.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): —that you’re going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to. What message are we sending?
BEHROUZNAMI: Carrillo believes it is unfair to suggest that undocumented immigrants do not pay into government coffers.
CARRILLO: I think it’s important to note that immigrants do pay taxes. There is a way, not just the usual taxing way that people discuss, which is when they go to stores or when—you know, if they work under a Social Security number that isn’t theirs, that they’re putting into the Social Security system, to our tax system. But there is actually what’s called an ITIN number, which is a tax identification number that the IRS gives to people who do not have a Social Security number, or to whom are working under a different Social Security number, so that they can file taxes, and this is, you know, required. I actually just received a letter from the Missouri Department of Revenue not too long ago. So, you know, it’s—we contribute.
BEHROUZNAMI: As Congress gets set to go into break for midterm elections, it is uncertain where the future of the DREAM Act lies.
ROSA: I think even as a standalone bill it would have an okay chance to meet closure in the Senate. It really depends on what was in the bill, ’cause obviously the way it works in the Senate is people will support a bill if it has something in it that they like, even though they might not like, you know, something else in it. We just don’t know until we’re going to see the final result of the bill that’s put forth what kind of a chance it will have.
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