US Senate to vote on controversial DREAM Act

The bill offers undocumented students a chance at U.S. residency.

The future of thousands of undocumented college students will be decided today when the U.S. Senate votes on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented high school graduates who have grown up in the U.S. to gain conditional residency status if they enroll in college or enlist in the military.

The Senate will vote on the DREAM Act as an amendment to a Department of Defense bill and must gain 60 votes to attain cloture. Although the measure failed in 2007 by eight votes, Matias Ramos, co-founder of United We Dream, hopes today’s vote will pass the bill.

“Immigrant stories are now coming out and undocumented individuals are speaking out publicly, which is something people back then would never have imagined,” Ramos said. “Sharing their stories has led to a lot of growth and we have the power of the immigrant community behind this bill.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., voted against the bill in 2007. Spokeswoman Maria Speiser said McCaskill has not yet determined her stance on the DREAM Act.

“We still have not received the final language for the DREAM Act,” Speiser said. “Once Senator McCaskill has the final language in hand she’ll be able to take a closer look at it and make her decision.”

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., did not respond for comment as of press time.

To benefit from the DREAM Act, individuals must have resided in the U.S. since the age of 15 and have graduated from high school or obtained a GED. They must not have any criminal convictions and they must attend college or join the military. According to MU Spanish professor Michael Ugarte, the bill is long overdue.

“Lots of people whose parents have come over without documents have gone through an educational system, and some are in college,” Ugarte said. “This act would enable them to become productive citizens. It’s really clear that it needs to be passed for that reason. It’s good for the country and good for them.”

In addition, universities would no longer be penalized for allowing undocumented students to be admitted and to pay in-state tuition. Ugarte said this would help immigrant families.

“I have a feeling that universities look the other way when it’s suggested that a person may not be here with proper documents,” Ugarte said. “What this bill would allow is for universities to not have to be worried.”

Ugarte also voiced unease concerning the military clause of the bill.

“I’m no die-hard pacifist, but it seems to me that whether or not you’re in favor of armed forces that it’s something of a bribe,” he said. “It tells people whose parents may have come here without documents that if you want to die for your country you can become a citizen.”

Ramos disagreed, stating the clause will give opportunities to immigrants.

“When you consider that a lot of these young people have grown up here and that joining the military is their aspiration, this bill would amplify choices,” Ramos said.

In July, Diana Martinez, a freshman at Kansas City Kansas Community College, travelled to Washington D.C. to persuade lawmakers to pass the act. The 21 students involved were arrested on charges of non-violent civil disobedience.

“(We) got arrested to show senators that we are willing to take risks with our futures to represent the thousands out there that are counting on this bill to pass,” Martinez said. “There are a lot of hardworking honor roll students that were brought here without a choice and are being called criminals by people who don’t understand. If we can get this passed we will be able to contribute back to our society in ways we can’t now.”

Martinez encouraged MU students to contact McCaskill and Bond to express their opinions on the bill.

“It’s not just something that’s handed out, we have to work for it,” Martinez said. “It’s crucial that college students call their senators to tell them to support the DREAM Act. It really makes a difference.”

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