by Félix Pérez
The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote by the U.S. Senate yesterday afternoon to move forward with immigration legislation marks a watershed moment for millions of DREAMers, their families and the educators who stand with them.
The Senate vote, 82-15, sets the stage for debate on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Senate proponents hope for a vote by July 4.
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Kari Johnson, of Wisconsin, and Montserrat Garibay, of Texas, are among the educators in countless cities and towns across America who are avid DREAMer advocates. Johnson and Garibay joined more than 5,000 educators in a telephone town hall last week to hear the latest updates about the Senate bill and to discuss maintaining their hard-won momentum.
“As educators we need to share our students’ stories and be a voice for our students,” said Johnson during the town hall. Our senators “really want and need to hear from us. And our students are counting on us.”
Garibay, a one-time DREAMer who became a citizen just last year, said educators are uniquely positioned to speak out for their students. Since she began teaching, she has met “several families that had mixed status where the mom or the dad had been deported. It was heartbreaking to hear those stories, so I’ve taken the responsibility of becoming an advocate for those children who are not able to advocate for themselves.”
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal urged the educators in the town hall to continue working to get as many votes as possible in the Senate to help send a message to the House. “What really is going to matter to making progress and hopefully achieving reform,” said Blumenthal, “is the kind of grass roots effort that you bring to the issue and the passion and understanding that it reflects.”
Blumenthal expressed a particular interest in extending the same five-year path to citizenship to “Little DREAMers” as their older siblings and peers get under the bipartisan immigration reform bill. He hopes to introduce an amendment that would shorten Little DREAMers’ waiting period from 13 years.
Said Blumenthal, “This country is the only one they know, and English is often the only language they speak. Their lives are here.”
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, at a White House event yesterday morning, was joined by law enforcement representatives, business, labor leaders and faith leaders, and Republican and Democratic elected officials as he urged the Senate to get down to business and enact the bill.
“There is no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we’ve had in years to address this problem in a way that’s fair . . .
“And there’s no good reason to undo the progress we’ve already made — especially when it comes to extreme steps like stripping protections from DREAMers that my administration has provided, or asking law enforcement to treat them the same way they treat violent criminals. That’s not who we are.
“We owe it to America to do better. We owe it to the DREAMers to do better.”
President Obama went on to recount the story of Diego Sanchez, who was in attendance at the White House event. “Diego came here from Argentina with his parents when he was just a kid, and growing up, America was his home. This is where he went to school. This is where he made friends. This is where he built a life. You ask Diego and he’ll tell you he feels American in every way — except one, on paper.”
Sanchez, who first learned his immigration status in high school, said President Obama, “stayed out of trouble, excelled in class, contributed to his community — feeling hopeful about his future. And suddenly he finds out he’s got to live in fear of deportation.”
Sanchez, who received temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program launched last year by President Obama, graduated a few weeks ago from St. Thomas University, where he was student body president and “Student of the Year.”
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