It may take awhile, but the DREAM Act will be back, and it will pass.
The Senate vote Saturday to toss the proposal that would have granted young illegal immigrants a route to legal status dealt a harsh blow to student activists who will face an even steeper uphill battle in the next Congress.
Immigrants see rough times ahead in the next two years, with many Republicans vowing to push for tougher immigration enforcement, but they also say Latino voters are getting fed up with lawmakers at a time when they are accruing greater political clout.
“This is a movement,” said Nancy Meza, a 23-year-old illegal immigrant and college graduate who wore a University of California, Los Angeles sweatshirt as she watched the televised vote. “We don’t have lobbyists and paid staff. It’s a movement by students.”
Immigrant rights groups said they planned to turn up the pressure on the Obama administration to slow deportations, end local police enforcement of immigration laws and look out for the students, many of whom publicly revealed their immigration status over the last few months.
Students also said they planned to fight for immigrant benefits – though it’s not legalization – locally as they’ve seen anti-illegal immigration activists do to pass tougher enforcement measures in states like Arizona.
“They’re winning by state, they’re winning by region,” said Cyndi Bendezu, a 25-year-old University of California, Los Angeles graduate who was brought to the United States from Peru when she was 4 years old. “We have to win smaller victories.”
Bendezu, who had been an illegal immigrant when she started college, attained legal residency through a relative’s petition. Now, she said she can’t wait to become a citizen to be able to vote.
Students said Saturday that momentum they had gained in recent months was bigger than the legislative defeat.
Getting the economy going – really going – again will likely be the best thing that could happen for the DREAM Act. Downturns and xenophobia go hand in hand. Get the jobless rate down and there will be much less heat involved in this issue.
Beyond that, the next best thing that could happen would be for pro-immigration activists to pick a couple of legislative targets and then actually defeat them in their next election. Losing races has a way of focusing political minds, and right now the belief is that being tuff on immigration is the “safe” position to be in. Prove that wrong a couple of times, either in primaries or in November, and see what happens. Lord knows there will be plenty of targets right here in Texas, many of which will become more clear in the coming months. Recruit, raise money, and kick some ass.