By MICHAELLE BOND
WASHINGTON (Sept. 25, 2010)—Stephanie's family intended to become legal residents when they came to the United States with travel visas nine years ago, but that never quite happened.
Their visas expired and their sponsor backed out, but the family stayed, hoping lawmakers would develop a legal pathway to citizenship for them, said Stephanie, 20, a University of Maryland student who does not want her last name published because she is undocumented.
Tuesday marked another disappointment for the Montgomery County family: The Senate blocked the DREAM Act.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act—a conditional road to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants—as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, but opponents prevented the issue from coming to the floor.
Now Durbin has introduced the DREAM Act independent of the Defense bill and said he is open to other options, including adding it to another bill or working with Republicans to adjust its language to get it passed. Under the DREAM Act, eligible children must have entered the country before their 16th birthday, have lived here for at least five years, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and must attend college or serve in the military for two years. They must also have "good moral character," according to the act.
Stephanie, then 11, her parents and her 12-year-old brother came to the United States from Ecuador mainly for economic reasons, she said. Stephanie, an engineering major, dreamed of working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but NASA will not employ undocumented immigrants, she said. Even if the DREAM Act passes, it will be too late for her to work for NASA by the time it goes into effect, she said.
"I kind of threw that away already," she said. "I'm thinking more realistically now."
She's considering going to graduate school, though she doesn't know how she will afford it, because, as an undocumented immigrant, she is ineligible for federal or private scholarships and grants, she said. She hopes the DREAM Act will pass before she finishes school, despite the setback in the Senate, she said.
Stephanie accused politicians of using their opposition to the DREAM Act as a tool to secure more votes in November.
"They're making everything a political game," she said. "They're not thinking about the lives that are at play with this."
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., argued that the DREAM Act is "part of sensible immigration reform." He was one of 40 Senate co-sponsors. He agreed that opposing senators politicized the issue.
"I think the Republican leadership has made a decision," Cardin said. "They don't want any more bills decided in the U.S. Senate."
Republicans don't want to give the impression that Democrats can get anything else done, he said.
But Democrats are the ones playing politics, said Brad Botwin, founder and director of Help Save Maryland, a non-profit, grassroots group concerned about unlawful immigration and the negative economic, social and educational costs it says the practice creates. The organization celebrated the Senate's blocking of the DREAM Act.
"This is a ridiculous attempt to get millions of illegals to become voting Democrats," Botwin said.
He dismissed the argument by the act's supporters that legalizing millions of undocumented students would help the economy and the military through their numbers and talent.
"How many of these 2 million are superstars?" Botwin said.
The Senate would not have blocked the important Defense bill if it weren't for the DREAM Act, he said.
"What I'm more concerned about is why the party in power would try to add non-related amendments to the Defense budget," Botwin said.
Applying "non-germane" amendments to an important bill is not only acceptable, but common practice, said Eric Schickler, political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of "Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate."
"It's with the major, must-pass bills that you try to add these types of provisions," Schickler said.
Despite the setback, students are still pushing for passage of the DREAM Act.
Montgomery College student Karolina, 20, who also asked not to have her last name published because she is undocumented, heard about the DREAM Act last year. She now works with the Maryland DREAM Youth Committee, informing people about the act by making phone calls and speaking on panels, she said. She is depending on the legislation to help her pay for nursing school, a dream encouraged by past teachers, she said.
"Since high school, they told us to dream big," Karolina said, "but once you come to reality, you can't accomplish them."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.