PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – - Philadelphia students are uniting and targeting certain GOP members this week to vote on the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide some young, undocumented, immigrants a path to citizenship.
Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised that he would hold votes on the DREAM Act during the lame-duck session of Congress, a period when members typically reconvene to discuss unfinished legislation. In order for the DREAM Act to pass, Senator Reid will need to make sure he gets 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster.
It wouldn’t be the first time Congress has voted on the Act. In 2007, it failed to pass. For some undocumented students, that simply cannot happen again.
“This is our last hope,” Jose said. “I can’t wait two years for this to happen again. I can’t. All the anxiety and you want it so much. Sometimes you cry because it’s gone. You put so much effort into it. You work your whole life, and it’s gone.” said Jose, who asked that his last name be withheld.
For Jose, the American Dream does not exist. He moved to this country from Honduras when he was a young teenager. He thought coming to America would mean equal opportunity, but after a few years of being here, he wanted to drop out of school. A talk with his father, who had very little education himself, changed Jose’s mind.
“He said, ‘Look at me. I didn’t go to school. I didn’t bring you to this country to end up like me,’” Jose said. “My dad and my mom really opened my eyes.”
Jose is just one of many undocumented students in Philadelphia who want to make sure the Act is passed. Jose joined about 10 other individuals at the Nationalities Service Center, an immigration resettlement organization in Center City, to partake in a phone bank imploring senators like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. George LeMieux (R-Florida), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to vote on the DREAM Act. For those undocumented students making the phone calls, it was difficult hearing some of the responses.
“All I wanted was the American Dream – for me to be able to graduate college and say ‘Here Dad, here you go,’” Jose said. “I am not doing it for the money. I’m not doing it for the title. I am doing it for my mom and dad, the two pillars in my life.”
The DREAM Act, also known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, is a bipartisan legislation that would provide conditional permanent resident status to undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, present in the U.S. for five years before the passage of the Act, completed high school or obtained a GED, under age 35 by date of passage of the Act, and have no serious criminal history.
Currently, there are an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants that can apply for citizenship under the act, but according to Dreamactivist.org, only about 38 percent may qualify.
The passage of the bill would help young immigrants like Maria Marroquin who migrated to the United States when she was 13 years old. Like many other immigrants, Maria came to the United States under a tourist visa with her parents and siblings. They came to see family and friends, but when the Marroquin family stayed longer than planned, Maria wondered, but didn’t ask questions. Her family ended up staying in Montgomery County where Maria went to High School.
“I didn’t know what undocumented meant until I was a junior in high school and all of my friends were applying to college or going on college tours. That is when I truly realized that I would not be able to be like them,” said Maria.
Maria decided to take a year off after high school to save money for college. She often took babysitting jobs because being undocumented restricted her from being able to work other places. She eventually enrolled at Montgomery Community College where she maintained a high GPA and received her associate’s degree in social science. If the DREAM Act passes, her dream of becoming a lawyer will come true.
“I don’t blame my parents.” said Maria. “I am thankful that they did this. “I know it was tough for them to leave their country and I think that they did that for me and my siblings.
“I am thankful because I do not know what I would be doing if I stayed in Peru. I know that here, I have so many opportunities. If the dream act passes, I will be able to give back to my country – The United States,” said Maria.
Maria does not believe the passage of the bill will act as amnesty for illegal immigrants which many opponents argue. Instead, Maria feels as though if she gains legal status, she and many other undocumented students will be able to utilize their talents and help boost the economy.
As the co-founder of DREAMActivist.org, an organization that helps undocumented youth learn more about the Dream Act, Maria is prepared to fight for years to come should the bill not pass. For her, going back to Peru is not an option. America is her home. America is all she knows.
“This is our lives that we are talking about. We can’t give up until we make sure the Act is passed and we fulfill our dreams.”
Reported by: Crystal Cranmore, CBS 3