Tag Archive | "Dream Act"

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Op-Ed: Dreaming in the White House


 By Carla Lopez, The Advocate

How one queer DREAMer went from living on a couch shared with her parents to the White House.

As I stood in line at the White House, it hit me: I was about to meet the president of the United States.

Just six months ago, I lived my life by a simple rule — never be noticed and absolutely never mention my status as an undocumented immigrant to anyone.

But all that changed in December when I was approved for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which grants some undocumented immigrants the ability to work legally in the U.S. and the security of knowing they won’t be deported.

Read more at Advocate.com

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Spanish Literacy Obstacle for Some Seeking “Deferred Action”


By Valeria Fernández

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Arisbeth Meza came to Phoenix from Mexico City, following the path of her older sister. She was 13 and has been working ever since cleaning the homes of the wealthy. In Mexico, she studied until the 7th grade. She never got a chance to go to school in the United States, because she had to work to help support her family.

Now 21, Meza’s low literacy skills in both English and Spanish stand in her way to benefiting from a federal program that offers her a reprieve from deportation.

To qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, applicants need to have been younger than age 16 when they entered the United States illegally. They must also be either a high school graduate, have a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or be enrolled in high school. They cannot have certain criminal convictions.

Those who qualify for DACA receive a two-year deferral from being deported and can contunie their work or schooling.

Came to Help Parents

For Meza, obtaining her GED certificate –even in her Spanish native tongue–is a huge challenge. She understands a little bit of English, but that is not enough for the test. When it comes to Spanish, it is difficult for her to write or make sense of punctuation. Comas and parenthesis, dashes and semicolons confuse her when she reads.

“I wanted to study when I first arrived, because I saw others doing it. But I came here hoping I could help my Mom and Dad financially,” she said in Spanish.

Meza’s situation is not unique. Advocates for “Dreamers” like her – undocumented youth who came to the country as children and who are advocating for a legal pathway to citizenship — are aware of their educational challenges.

“These are dramatic situations because these kids were not enrolled at school, perhaps out of fear that they would be singled out as undocumented immigrants,” said Carmen Cornejo, an activist from CADENA, an organization that advocates for legalization allowing Dreamers a path to citizenship. “This can also be considered a denial of their rights as children to have an education. In some instances, their family circumstances might have led them to have to work.”

Cornejo said there are opportunities for Arisbeth. Immigration authorities still consider those enrolled in GED classes for the temporary deferred action, she added.

“These kids would have a lot of problems in the long run, if they don’t enroll in a program to try to get the GED,” said Cornejo. Part of the issue is that if Congress gives support for the legalization of youth through legislation similar to the Dream Act, the threshold of education required might be much higher, she explained.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., roughly 1.76 million youth are eligible for DACA nationally, and about 500,000 of those are younger than age 15. MPI estimates that 350,000 of all who qualify for the benefit have neither a high school diploma, nor are enrolled in school. In Arizona, an estimated 80,000 youth could benefit from DACA. There’s no data on how many of them are currently in high school or have received a diploma.

A Chance to Catch Up

In Arizona, Dreamers have faced a number of hurdles to get ahead in their education. A state law – Proposition 300 — approved by voters in 2006, bars state-funded schools from offering free GED classes to undocumented immigrants, making the path to DACA eligibility difficult for those who may have aged out of the high school system, but still wish to become eligible for the new federal program.

Proposition 300, however, doesn’t remove their right to take the GED exam altogether. Rather, advocates say, it merely bars them from taking GED classes at institutions that receive state funds.

In response, local nonprofits serving Latinos are jumping in to offer GED preparation classes for a fee. The groups are responding to a spike in demand for such services.

In October, the nonprofit Friendly House started offering GED preparation classes focused on helping DACA applicants at a fee of $300 for 10 weeks. The classes are offered in English and Spanish, and test-takers have the option of taking the GED in either language.

“We were very honest with them and told them, “This is where you’re at and this is what you need to do,” said Luis Enriquez, director of adult education and workforce development at Friendly House. “We’re not miracle workers; we’ll give you the tools. We’ll give you a good teacher. It depends on the effort you put in it.”

The program has enrolled about 100 students so far. Assessment tests showed that nearly two-thirds of them had a 6th or 7th grade literacy level in both English and Spanish.

He said it would be extremely difficult for these students to make up for six years worth of education in 10 weeks, but the program can provide clients with extra support and a plan to prepare for the GED exam.

“The problem with Spanish, is that some people speak it, but the Spanish they’re getting in the test, is academic Spanish, [with a lot] of the vocabulary they’ve never seen in social studies,” he said. “They don’t use it in everyday life,” he added.

The students that Enriquez has met are a lot like Meza. They never enrolled in school, because they had to support their family or have children of their own they have to support financially.

DACA May Offer Protection

Some of them, despite their disadvantages, were able to pass the test and are already filing for DACA, Enriquez noted. The educational program offers another advantage, he said. Immigration authorities may consider enrollment in courses to earn a GED in the DACA process.

Meza wants to get her DACA application in because she feels it will protect her, especially now that she’s pregnant and about to have her second child.

In Arizona, laws severely restricting immigrants, such as SB 1070, make it mandatory for authorities to question a person’s immigration status and turn the individual over to immigration authorities.

Financial pressures could once again set her back.

Besides the expense of a second child, Arisbeth is now sending money to her grandmother to buy medicine. So, it may take time for Meza to save up enough for GED classes and application fees to apply for the federal program.

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Black Immigrants Join the Debate


By The Root‘s Cynthia Gordy, Washington Reporter

WASHINGTON, D.C.—This spring, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Tolu Olubunmi came out publicly as an undocumented immigrant for the first time.

“It’s been nerve-racking because it puts me at a risk,” the 30-year-old said of her speech supporting Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) reintroduction of the DREAM Act. The bill, which passed in the House last year but failed to clear the Senate, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths like her, brought to the United States as children. “But I think you have to focus on the individuals to get away from the politics of an issue that’s so divisive. Once you know that there are real people attached to the statistics, then you have to start working on real solutions.”

Olubunmi, who was born in Nigeria, is also one of 3 million black immigrants in this country. Despite moving from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America at a remarkable rate — and despite an estimated 400,000 having undocumented status — they are barely footnotes in an immigration-reform conversation that is usually framed as a Mexican-border issue. But in light of newer, smaller-but-growing communities, as well as recently granted protected status for Haitians in particular, black immigrants are becoming stronger voices, advocating for reform from their diverse perspectives.

Black Sojourners

According to a Population Reference Bureau report, about two-thirds of black immigrants to the U.S. are from the Caribbean and Latin America — mostly Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad — with families that largely began settling in the United States from the 1960s through the ’80s. More recently there’s been a wave of African immigrants, with more arriving between 2000 and 2005 than in the previous decade. The top three countries from that continent are Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana.

Most black immigrants enter the United States legally, seeking education and job opportunities, either by joining immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens or by presenting student or tourist visas with an expiration date. Those who are undocumented often fall out of status by overstaying these visas.

Caribbean- and African-born blacks tend to be wealthier and more educated than other immigrants, a class difference that has kept many from joining Latinos in the immigration-reform movement. But in recent years, with more African and Caribbean people coming to the United States to flee political strife, civil violence and natural disasters, new groups are entering as refugees or asylum seekers. While only 3 percent of immigrants from Caribbean countries, mostly from Haiti, were admitted under the refugee category, nearly 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africans granted legal residence between 2000 and 2006 entered as refugees.

As these flows of people have come from countries like Somalia, Congo, Liberia and Haiti — without the same educational resources allowing them to flourish — many have run into trouble navigating a slow-moving and restrictive immigration system.

Who Gets In
?

Although immigration from Africa and the Caribbean has grown rapidly over the past decade, having contributed to at least one-fifth of America’s black population growth between 2000 and 2005 alone, there are anecdotal arguments that the process is infused with racism and works less efficiently for black people.

Sheryl Winarick, an immigration attorney in Washington, D.C., suggests that the largest hurdles for blacks in the immigration system, particularly those fleeing poverty or civil strife, usually arise from the economic situation in their countries. She explained that most visas require proof that an individual plans to return home after a temporary visit to the U.S.

“Anyone that’s coming from a developing country has a harder time demonstrating their intent to just visit instead of staying permanently,” she told The Root. “If you don’t own a home or have a steady flow of income to go back to, then the government assumes you’re more likely to want to stay here permanently and find work.”

On the other hand, Phil Hutchings, an organizer with Oakland, Calif.’s Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which lobbies for immigrants’ rights, believes that race is always in play. “It factors into whether you get through speedily or whether there’s a lot of circumspection,” he says.

“People who go against the norm of what Americans are ‘supposed to look like’ — and that generally includes black people — have more difficulty,” he continues. “Also, a fair number of African immigrants are Muslim, putting them in a suspect category that makes it harder for them to come here.”

An African Dreamer

For her part, Olubunmi says her challenges stemmed from a rigid policy that makes it impossible for undocumented immigrants to rectify their situation once they fall out of legal status. When she was 14, her mother brought her to Maryland from Nigeria to escape political instabilities. The plan was for her aunt, a U.S. citizen, to adopt her.

“The plan was never to be undocumented,” she says, but the process hit a snag when her papers were filed late. It’s a common mishap. “When you file your paperwork, officials could say that you missed a deadline by a week or two, but they don’t actually respond to you for two or three years because of the backlog. People who are committed to doing the right thing get caught up, unbeknownst to them, in these basic flaws in the system. It’s pretty easy to fall through the cracks.”

Olubunmi graduated from high school at the top of her class and then from college, earning a chemical engineering degree. She anticipated filing her papers with a company that would hire her as an engineer, only to learn that she couldn’t legally get a job. “The law says that if you’re undocumented, you cannot adjust your status while living in the U.S.,” she says. “I’d have to go to Nigeria to sort out the conflict; then, once I got there, it would trigger a three-to-10-year bar from returning to this country. But this is my home.”

Since 2008, Olubunmi has volunteered with various advocacy organizations, working behind the scenes for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act in particular. “We’re not asking for a free pass,” she says, explaining that many would-be beneficiaries were brought over as babies or toddlers.

“People always say, ‘Get in line.’ Well, the DREAM Act creates a line,” she says. “These students are saying that they will do whatever they have to, if it’s going to college or serving in the military. They are just asking for an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the country they love.”

A Rising Haitian Voice

David Faustin, 45, says he had a smooth process coming to the United States from Haiti 22 years ago. He acquired his green card upon marrying his wife, who already had permanent residency, and became a citizen after 10 years of marriage. But as the pastor of a Washington, D.C. church with largely Haitian congregants, he has helped many of them through a far more difficult course.

When a devastating earthquake plunged the island into further despair in 2010, he was relieved by the Obama administration’s decision to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who had already been living in the U.S., allowing them to stay here legally and suspending deportations.

“The church brought in lawyers like Ms. Winarick to help people who were scared of applying for TPS because they were of unlawful status,” he tells The Root. “They thought it was a way for immigration officials to know where they live.”

This month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would extend TPS for Haitians, which was scheduled to expire in July, for another 18 months. The department also expanded it to include Haitians who came here up to one year after the 2010 earthquake. “Having protected status is helping a lot of Haitian people to not only make it here and contribute to the American economy, but also to send money to other people back home and help them survive,” says Faustin.

Furthermore, it has empowered more Haitians to organize around immigration reform, partnering with immigrant-rights groups to build a powerful lobby. “In the past it was just the Hispanic community, but the Haitian community has become involved to advocate for what they would like to see happening for them,” says Faustin, citing, for example, amnesty for immigrants who once had legal status but are now unable to resolve their position. “As soon as the government gave them TPS, Haitians decided to take advantage of the momentum.”

Beyond the Border

Hutchings, of the 10-year-old Black Alliance, concurs that he’s seen other black-immigrant organizations mobilize in recent years, including San Francisco’s African Advocacy Network and Chicago’s Pan African Association. “In different parts of the country, black immigrants have developed enclosed communities just to themselves,” he says. “But at a certain point, a community realizes that it needs to reach out to develop allies and meet political officials. Their participation is really about people beginning to take responsibility for their own development in the United States.”

Olubunmi is heartened to see more people from African and Caribbean countries speaking out. “The majority of undocumented immigrants are Latino, but it’s important to recognize that there are different groups involved in this debate,” she says. “I remember once watching Bush talk about creating a path for folks who ‘come across the border.’ Well, if a bill is written from that perspective, it wouldn’t work for everybody.”

Ultimately, she knows that a system that works for everyone will require action from Washington. “I’m a huge supporter of President Obama, but I am very disappointed that we haven’t been able to get comprehensive immigration reform done,” she says.

While she understands that Congress must act, as the president demanded in his recent immigration-policy speech, she maintains that he has executive authority to make some changes himself — changes like stopping the deportation of undocumented “Dreamers.”

Until then, Olubunmi is committed to lending her voice to the struggle, even if it now means going public with her own status. “If it will help to raise consciousness, if it will help make life easier for other people,” she says with a quick, nervous laugh, “then I will lay myself at the altar.”

Cynthia Gordy is The Root’s Washington reporter.

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Killing the DREAM, GOP Risks Kissing the Latino Vote Goodbye


Latinovations,  Maria Cardona,

When I was invited to speak recently at the first Americano Forum —the effort hosted by former Speaker Newt Gingrich to reach out to conservative Latinos — I told the group that they had a long way to go with Latinos. There was unanimous agreement. I said a strong, credible first step would be to support passage of the DREAM Act. Most agreed.

Now some Republicans are suggesting that pushing the DREAM Act could endanger their support for the New START treaty. If this is the case, their shortsightedness is not only putting our national security at risk, it puts their longterm viability as a party on the line.

It is clear that many conservative GOP leaders, at least the most intellectually honest, have a sober understanding of the long road ahead for the conservative movement and the Republican Party to make real progress toward attracting Latino voters.

The midterm results underscore this. Latinos overwhelmingly supported Democrats. Latino voters are rightly credited with having saved the Democratic Senate majority —and particularly seats of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.). Though there were some Republicans elected to statewide office in Nevada and New Mexico, neither won with a majority of the Latino vote.

Republicans have only themselves to blame for this predicament — thanks to the likes of Tom Tancredo, Sharron Angle and others who have depicted Latinos as terrorists and gang members. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) talks about wanting to complete “the dang fence.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants to hold hearings on the 14th Amendment, suggesting there is merit to wanting to take away birthright citizenship from children born of undocumented immigrants. This is no recipe for increasing any party’s ranks with Latino voters.

So what do Republicans need to do? If they are serious about winning the White House in 2012, they have to be serious about getting more than 40 percent of the Latino vote. No Republican can win the presidency without that.

The Republican pollster Matthew Dowd repeatedly said that President George W. Bush would not have been re-elected without 40 percent of the Latino vote. Given the growth in the Latino population from 2004 until now, it is evident that the percentage threshold has to be much higher.

How can Republicans start down this path? Like any proven multi-step rehabilitation program, you need to be brave. And you begin with small steps. The political equivalent would be to support the DREAM Act.

This bill has been debated for a decade. It calls for an onerous process for qualified young people, brought to the United States when very young, to obtain legal status by either attending college or serving in the military. Both Republicans and Democrats wrote the bill and support it. It has even passed twice out of the Senate Judiciary Committee — as part of a comprehensive immigration bill.

The House passed the DREAM Act in a bipartisan vote last week. So why do any Senate Republicans now withhold support from legislation that not only strengthens our military, education system, national security, but gives hope to millions of children who have known and loved only one country—the United States? No reason except politics as usual.

Here lies the long-term danger for Republicans. By voting against this practical legislation, one that makes our country stronger, Republicans are voting against their own longterm interests — and their chances of regaining the White House in 2012.

No wonder former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is making calls behind the scenes urging senators to support this.

Though much has been said about President Barack Obama not pushing through Comprehensive Immigration Reform in his first year, after he promised he would, no one can say that the White House has not used political capital here. In addition to the president, six Cabinet secretaries have held conference calls, publicly and privately, with constituents and the media, written op-ed pieces, blogs and called members of Congress. Community activists, seeing the White House effort, are pulling out all the stops to convince their members to contact key senators still withholding support.

Make no mistake, these community activists and leaders are taking names. They will know who stood with them — and who preferred to play politics.

The DREAM Act could do so much. Not just to give hope to millions of smart, creative, hard-working students and would-be servicemen and women, it would give our country the greatest resource there is —our young leaders.

The road to the White House leads through Latino territory. The DREAM Act vote is likely to begin to tell the story of how hostile or how open to Republicans that territory will be.

Any Republican with an eye on 2012 would be wise to convince their senate colleagues to come on board. If not for the country, then for the long-term viability of the GOP.

Voting for the DREAM Act can be the Republicans’ start of a new day with Latinos.

Maria Cardona is a Principal at the Dewey Square Group (DSG),  a premier national public affairs firm, where she heads the firm’s Public Affairs Practice, combining public policy, communications, coalition building, constituency outreach, government relations, traditional and new media. Cardona also founded DSG’s Latino Strategies Practice, “Latinovations,” which guides clients on “best practices” on building support for their positions, products and brands within the Hispanic community.

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Asian-American Students in Limbo as DREAM Act Dies Again


Pacific Citizen,  Brianna Pang

Steve Li, an undocumented City College of San Francisco student, sits in a detention center in Arizona, but thanks to a last minute reprieve from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein his deportation to Peru has been delayed.

But for other similarly undocumented Asian Pacific American students, living life under the radar, largely in hiding, continues.

Ju, a 21-year-old Bay Area university student, who asks that his last name not be used, dreams of one day working in the nonprofit sector serving immigrant communities. New York resident Jong-Min, a 30-year-old grocery worker, still clings to dreams of becoming a federal judge seven years after graduating magna cum laude.

But for students like Ju and Jong-Min, hopes for a better future will likely fall short of the American dream.

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was first introduced almost a decade ago and this year, once again, it was shot down by the House of Representatives.

The act would provide a pathway for undocumented minors to become permanent residents, but amnesty will not be granted to just anyone. The 2009 version of the Senate bill contains several requirements, including: proof of residence in the U.S. for at least five years; proof of arrival prior to age 16; graduation from a U.S. high school; and arrival in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of the bill enactment.

Undocumented students would also have to prove “good moral character” in order to be granted “conditional status.” And lastly, the student must also either complete two years in college or serve two years in the military within six years in order to apply for legal permanent resident status.

Ju and Jong-Min both fit all the criteria. Yet, as the DREAM Act continues to face an uncertain future, both still struggle with basic American liberties. Unable to obtain a driver’s license, work legally, or participate in social aid programs, both are left to obtain under-the-table jobs.

A Reprieve for Some

Li was 12 when he left his home country of Peru to join his parents in the United States who had obtained tourist visas. The family had fled to the South American nation from China in the 1980s to avoid persecution, according to a spokesperson from the Asian Law Caucus.

Once in the U.S., the family applied for political asylum from China, but their application was denied several years ago. Sadly, the family’s legal status was left hidden from their son, Steve.

“This is a good example of what happens when Congress does not pass the DREAM Act,” said Sin Yen Ling, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, who is representing Li, 20.

Li was scheduled to be deported Nov. 15 but federal immigration officials have now delayed his deportation. The delay is likely because Sen. Feinstein is looking into whether to introduce a private bill that would allow Li to stay in the U.S. on a temporary basis.

“As an original co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, I believe it would be unjust to deport Mr. Li before we get a chance to vote on this bill, which would allow students like him to attain U.S. citizenship,” said Feinstein to the Associated Press.

That’s good news for APA students in similar circumstances.

Still in Hiding

Although Ju’s identity is still hidden from federal ICE officials, his story is eerily similar to Li’s. In South Korea Ju recalls a family riddled with financial problems. In the end bankruptcy and divorce were the result.

He would end up in the U.S. with hopes of a better life. Armed with tourist visas, the family tried to apply for permanent residency status but was denied.

Like Li, Ju says his undocumented status was only revealed to him during his senior year of high school. At the time his life was that of a typical teenager: working hard on AP classes, joining student government, and playing high school varsity basketball. His undocumented status was revealed finally when it was time to apply for college.

“I couldn’t apply for financial aid, and I couldn’t get very much money to pay for college,” Ju said.
Now a college junior at a Bay Area university, Ju currently works odd jobs to make ends meet while working on a political science degree.

Jong-Min sees his own story in Ju and Li’s recollections. Jong-Min was 1 years old when his parents brought him to the U.S. They arrived on student visas and stayed long after the expiration dates. After five attempts to apply for permanent residency status in the past 20 years, all they have received are denials.

It wasn’t until Jong-Min tried to apply for a hospital residency program in hopes of becoming a nutritionist that he learned of his undocumented status.

It was his mother who finally admitted that there was no greencard waiting for him at home.

“A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it is,” said Jong-Min recalling his struggle to gain legal status. “When you come to the U.S. at such an early age, your status depends on your parents’ status. If sometimes, they don’t give you the correct legal status, then that’s it. It’s over.”

He added: “When you find out at 17 or 18, you have to apply by yourself. You have to restart the process, go back to your home country, and reapply there. And at that point, the chances of you getting a visa is very slim because you’ve overstayed a visa as a child.”

And once you leave the U.S., all undocumented students are barred from re-entering the country for 10 years.

It’s a long road that Jong-Min has chosen not to go down. Instead, he continues to work odd jobs just to survive while tucking away his dreams of attending law school.

For many undocumented students, depression is common. And often, APA students are forced into hiding, afraid that others will learn of their undocumented status.

“I kept my undocumented status a secret because I was ashamed,” Ju said. But, “I want to let the public know that this issue is not just a Latino issue. It also affects many Asian American people.”

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Immigrant Advocates Pin Hopes on Dream Act


New America Media, News Report, Marcelo Ballvé,

After a summer focused on fighting off Arizona’s hard-line law SB 1070, immigrant advocates are seeking to regain momentum with an all-out push on the Dream Act.

The Dream Act—or Development, Education, and Relief for Alien Minors Act—would provide a chance at legal residency for young undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school.

Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, made a surprise announcement earlier this week that he would seek to bring the act to a vote as an amendment to the annual defense bill.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, seemed to raise the stakes even further with an announcement the next day that he would introduce a major immigration reform bill before the midterm elections.

However, the current Congress seems too deeply divided for major legislation to get through after two years of rancorous battles over stimulus, health care, and financial regulation.

So it was Reid’s plan for the more narrowly focused Dream Act that triggered the most excitement.

Pro- and anti-immigration groups are asking supporters to call and e-mail their representatives in anticipation of a legislative showdown.

With the Dream Act winning traction and buzz over immigration being heard on Capitol Hill, immigrants and their advocates again feel like they’re in the driver’s seat, said Shuya Ohno of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

“The anti-immigrant groups are on the defensive and are lashing out,” Ohno said.

The Dream Act’s detractors characterize it as an attempt to pander to Hispanic voters with a watered-down immigration amnesty.

The act “has the potential to immediately legalize millions and also result in the admission of millions more immigrants for years to come via chain migration,” said Jon Feere, an analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that opposes more immigration.

Freere’s figures are exaggerated, Dream Act supporters contend.

The National Immigration Law Center estimates the number of high school students graduating each year who might qualify for the act at 65,000.

Even if the act were to include high school graduates over an extended interval—a recent version of the bill includes immigrants presently aged 12 to 35—the pool of potential Dream Act beneficiaries would number just under 1.5 million.

And since many immigrants would not apply—either because they lack interest in pursuing college, or are disqualified due to criminal records or deportation orders—the number of beneficiaries would likely be far lower.

“We’re extremely hopeful,” said Natalia Aristizabal, Dream Act organizer at Make the Road New York (MRNY), a grassroots immigrant rights group based in the borough of Queens.

A strong involvement by immigrant students and youth, particularly in the last year, helped keep the Dream Act present in legislators’ minds, she said.

“A bigger proportion of the population affected is fighting for it,” she said.

To benefit from the Dream Act, undocumented immigrant high school graduates must attend college or serve in the military.

They also need to have entered the United States at age 15 or younger and prove they’ve resided in the country for five years or more.

One young person who stands to benefit is Francisco Curiel.

The 18-year-old New York City resident came from Mexico three years ago, and is now a high school senior who also plays on a soccer team and holds down weekend food delivery jobs to help his family pay the bills.

In addition, Curiel himself has helped educate young people about the Dream Act as a youth organizer at MRNY.

The Dream Act would make it possible for him to access student loans and scholarships to attend college, loans he’s now barred from as an undocumented immigrant, Curiel said.

“I want to work, and contribute what I can to this country,” he said.

If the Dream Act does come up for a vote in the Senate—it needs to attract at least one Republican vote to do so—it would become the first major stand-alone piece of immigration policy to advance that far during the Obama administration.

However, the Dream Act has a history of failing to muster enough support at the last moment.

In 2007, the Dream Act was derailed by a narrow eight-vote margin in the U.S. Senate, despite the backing of prominent Democrats and Republicans, many of whom are still in Congress.

Again and again, the bill has attracted bipartisan support only to be stopped by a small core of Republican opponents.

This week, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Reid’s advocacy of the Dream Act was purely motivated by his desire to attract Hispanic voters in Nevada. Sen. Reid faces a strong challenge in November from a Tea Party-backed Republican opponent, Sharron Angle.

Several Republican senators joined McConnell in criticizing Reid for attaching the Dream Act to the defense bill when it has little to do with war or security issues.

Given that at least one Republican must join Democrats to gain the 60 votes needed to advance the Dream Act, it’s very possible that it will again be defeated.

“Anything is possible,” said Ohno, of the National Immigration Forum.

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