Students in graduation caps and gowns slept, arms on their knees, heads on their arms, hats covering their faces. The 7am arrival at the Senate building had made for a long morning and in the 3 hours before the hearing they slept in the Senate hallway while press, advocates and aides rushed by. Meanwhile, a line of blue graduation caps stretched unbroken down the hallway, each one bearing the word DREAM.
On June 28, 2011, Senator Durbin (D-IL) held the first-ever hearing to discuss the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011, more commonly known as the DREAM Act. This legislation, originally introduced by Senator Hatch (R-UT) in August 2001, provides a path to citizenship for individuals brought to the United States as children who are unable to seek higher education or legal employment due to their undocumented status. These students, through no fault of their own, live in a legal twilight zone with no line to wait in and no way to earn legal status.
As student after student stood to tell their story, it was hard to imagine that many of these honor students and community leaders were facing deportation orders. Unable to pursue their aspirations for higher learning, military service and positions in fields such as medicine and scientific research, these students came to the hearing to tell their stories. While there were a few dissenting Senators present who questioned portions of the bill, it was hard to deny the feeling that these students had waited long enough for their opportunity to seek citizenship.
Beyond the students themselves, Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Clifford Stanley, Department of Defense Undersecretary for Personal and Readiness all made compelling arguments for the potential economic and civic contributions of DREAMers. All three emphasized that the passage of the DREAM Act, and the prospect of keeping bright, dedicated students within the country, was in our national interest. At a time when the government is seeking debt reduction at any cost, it was also interesting to hear that DREAM-eligible students stand to contribute $1.4 billion to the reduction of national debt, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Once the hearing had concluded, DREAMers, advocates (including LIRS staff) and Congressional aides attended a reception hosted by Senator Durbin’s office. The celebration of these students continued with a symbolic “graduation” for 20-30 DREAM Act students, reminding us all of what these students deserve and why LIRS and other organizations continue to push for the passage of the DREAM Act.
Take action to support the DREAM Act today at the LIRS Action Center
Read more about the DREAM Act here