This article is based on a story Catalina Jaramillo wrote for El Diario/La Prensa.
NEW YORK—Luis V. Gutiérrez, the U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, thinks the DREAM Act is in good shape. Never before, he says, have both the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid focused on it at the same time. Pelosi recently said she will push for a vote after Thanksgiving.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2009 (S. 729), commonly known as the DREAM Act, would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants if they attend at least two years of college or serve in the U.S. military.
Currently, thousands of undocumented youth who arrive in the U.S. as children and study in American schools face a stark reality in their senior year of high school. They are barred from participating in federal financial aid programs for college or graduate school, and can’t work legally either.
On a visit to New York City to support the DREAM Act and demand an end to deportations, Rep. Gutiérrez, who the Pew Hispanic Center recently rated as the second most important Hispanic leader in the U.S., told El Diario/La Prensa that DREAM Act advocates need to concentrate on going after Republicans.
“We need to get Republicans. Going to rally outside a Democrat’s office is wasting your time,” Rep. Gutiérrez said. “I saw some of the dreamers…they went to Senator Bob Menéndez’s office. Why? He just came out of the president’s office the day before, said he was for the DREAM Act and telling the president to get it done. And then they are in his office? Why? I just don’t grasp why.”
In New York, DREAM Act supporters have rallied on various occasions outside the offices of Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nydia Velázquez, demanding that they fight for the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill, independent of comprehensive immigration reform.
Rep. Gutiérrez said that even though he and others were previously opposed to passing the DREAM Act as a single piece of legislation, he has changed his stance because the Republicans will take control of the House in 2011, and he does not see a real chance to pass a comprehensive immigration measure in the new congress.
On Sunday, Rep. Gutiérrez joined Rep. Velázquez, Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn, numerous state and city elected officials and several immigration groups at a rally for immigrant rights in Brooklyn. They called on President Obama to stop deportations, Congress to pass the DREAM Act, Mayor Michael Bloomberg to regulate Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s presence in Rikers Island and Governor David Paterson to rescind New York’s agreement to participate in the federal Secure Communities program.
But in an example of the emotionally-wrenching internal debate that the immigration rights movement has gone through this year—whether to focus on obtaining a comprehensive measure or the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill—there was a group at the rally that did not hide their disappointment with the congressional leaders present. Distancing themselves from the larger group of “dreamers” cheering at the event, a group of young people from the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) said neither Rep. Gutiérrez nor Rep. Velázquez spoke for them, and that neither of them had really been working for the bill until now.
“We are not against them, but we are holding them accountable. We want them to really work,” said Sonia Guinansaca.
Natalia Aristizabal, youth organizer for Make the Road, said that NYSYLC did not represent the “dreamers,” they were just the voice of an angry group. Aristazabal said she understood their anger, since both Gutiérrez and Velázquez had previously put their efforts behind comprehensive immigration reform, rather than the DREAM Act.
But for Make the Road’s part, “we are grateful for what they [Rep. Gutiérrez and Rep. Velázquez] have done,” Aristizabal said.
“We have to focus on the people against us, the people who voted ‘no’ in September,” Kang said. He was referring to the DREAM Act’s defeat when it was tacked on as an amendment to a military defense bill.
Kang pointed out that groups have been taking actions against Republicans, and that they are preparing protests for the upcoming weeks.
In an interview with El Diario, Rep. Gutiérrez also said it is time to create a nationally coordinated effort to stop deportations. He said President Obama won’t stop them until he sees that the community is not going to take it anymore. Rep. Gutiérrez said there should be coordinated disobedience acts, hunger strikes and other kinds of protests such as the pen campaign started by the New York Immigration Coalition.
“The President has on his desk seven or eight different ways, developed by his own legislative team, to stop deportations with his pen,” Rep. Gutiérrez said.
According to the congressman, President Obama has lacked the will to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“He said he was going to make this [immigration reform] a priority and he has not. As simple as that,” Rep. Gutiérrez said.
Rep. Gutiérrez also said he was very upset about Obama’s trip to Asia after the elections because it cost critical days for a possible immigration debate in Congress’s lame duck session.
Although he admitted the Democrats must take some responsibility for having “insufficient courage” to pass the bill when they had the majority in both houses, he said that if only one out of ten Republicans had sat down to talk seriously about immigration reform, it could have been done.
UPDATE: At the rally, Speaker Quinn announced that she was sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her for an opportunity to discuss ICE’s interaction with the Department of Corrections (DOC) at the Rikers Island jail.
“We write to express our deep concern about ICE’s activities at Rikers and our fear that, in the face of an immigration system that we all acknowledge is in need of immediate reform, DOC and ICE are failing to exercise any discretion in whom they detain. It is in no one’s interest to put the public at risk. At the same time, the deportation of immigrant New Yorkers who do not pose a public safety risk and do not have significant records seems senseless, destroys families, ruins lives and is often simply cruel,” says the letter signed by Speaker Quinn and Council Members Daniel Dromm, Elizabeth Crowley, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rep. Velazquez.