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Posted at 9:02 PM ET, 12/18/2010

Dreams deferred, fulfilled as Senate takes up two historic votes

By Felicia Sonmez

Eric Alva was still sitting in his car when he got the news.

The 39-year-old Marine veteran, who was not discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" law but has been fighting for repeal ever since publicly disclosing his homosexuality four years ago, had just finished driving three hours from his home in San Antonio to visit friends for the weekend in Houston Friday morning when he got a call from a colleague from the Human Rights Campaign.

The votes are on, the colleague informed him.

"I didn't even get out of the car," said Alva, who lost a leg to a landmine during the Iraq war. "I just did a U-turn on the I-10 and went back west three hours, and then caught a plane four hours later, and then I was here last night."

To top things off, Alva noted that Saturday's historic vote to repeal the 17-year ban on gays serving openly in the military came on the eve of his 40th birthday. "This is such an overwhelming gift for me," Alva said.

Two other Texans had a different experience at the Capitol this weekend.

Veronica Cervantes, 20, and Marcos Larios, 23, students at Austin Community College, drove 36 hours from Texas to Washington in a minivan with 15 people to lobby for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

"My foot hurts," chuckled Larios, who drove the van along with one other person. He and Cervantes said that the group arrived in Washington around 6 a.m. Monday morning, rested for a few hours, and then set out about 9 a.m. to begin lobbying senators for the bill's passage.

Ultimately, the measure failed Saturday on a 55-to-41 vote.

"I see it from a moral stance," Larios said late Friday night. "It's just that this has to happen. I mean, what can I tell my friends? What can they do? This is their hope."

He and Cervantes were among five dozen young people who watched expectantly from up in the Senate gallery as Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) addressed a mostly-empty Senate chamber, appealing for the DREAM Act's passage. Some of the young people were dressed in full graduation caps and gowns; many were clasping their hands in expectation. Cervantes was wearing a Santa hat.

The experiences of Larios, Cervantes and Alva were a testament to the sharp contrasts on display at the Capitol on Saturday for backers of the two pieces of legislation. Supporters of the 17-year-long effort to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" were as jubilant as longtime DREAM Act proponents were dejected. And in both cases, the impact was deeply personal -- even among members of the Senate and the administration.

In a floor speech shortly before the Senate took up its vote on the DREAM Act on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pointed to Durbin's personal investment in the issue.

"I have never known him to feel so strong about an issue as he does this DREAM Act," Reid said, adding that Durbin "has shed tears talking to me about some of the people that he's visited with."

Durbin himself told reporters Saturday afternoon that he was taken by surprise when he looked up in the middle of his speech Friday night to see the 60 or so young people watching him from the Senate gallery. He went upstairs to meet them and invited them into his office, where he signed autographs and showed them his Lithuanian-born mother's naturalization certificate.

Asked why he thought that the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal effort succeeded while the DREAM Act fell short, Durbin paused, then responded: "Both were simple matters of justice, and they both played out politically a little differently."

As the final vote on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal came late Saturday afternoon, the young DREAM Act supporters in the Senate galleries were replaced by supporters of the effort to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Among them were White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who was watching the vote along with deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye, Deputy Director of Public Engagement Brian Bond, and Public Engagement Office Director Christina Tchen.

When the final 65-to-31 vote was announced, Tchen, Bond and Inouye could be seen sharing a silent high-five, while some other supporters in the galleries embraced each other.

After the vote, Jarrett told reporters it was her first time watching a vote from inside the Senate chamber. Asked what she would tell the president she saw on Saturday, Jarrett responded: "A lot of hard work paying off."

"And as he has said often, today we became a more perfect union," she added.

By Felicia Sonmez  | December 18, 2010; 9:02 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

The reservations and fears of thoughtful respondents to the article are already addressed in the Dream Act bill as follows:
“The purpose of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation. The following is a list of specific requirements one would need in order to qualify for the current version of the DREAM Act. a. must have entered the United States before the age of 16 (i.e. 15 and younger); b) must have been present in the United States for at least five (5) consecutive years prior to enactment of the bill; c) must have graduated from a United States high school, or have obtained a GED, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education (i.e. college/university); d) must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application e) Must have good moral character.”
Most of those who read and respond to these posts are descendents of immigrants, many of whom probably would not have met the requirements of the DREAM act, many of whom may have suffered the stereotyping and bigotry dished out to young people who have been assimilated into our culture. Advocates of the DREAM act should not give up, for their benefit and for ours.

This is a path to their becoming productive, tax-paying citizens. Certainly, it is a lengthy process as outlined in the Dream act itself.

Don't give up, Dreamers. Many of us, descendents of citizens ourselves, support you.

Posted by: castleb | December 20, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

The reservations and fears of thoughtful respondents to the article are already addressed in the Dream Act bill as follows:
“The purpose of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation. The following is a list of specific requirements one would need in order to qualify for the current version of the DREAM Act. a. must have entered the United States before the age of 16 (i.e. 15 and younger); b) must have been present in the United States for at least five (5) consecutive years prior to enactment of the bill; c) must have graduated from a United States high school, or have obtained a GED, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education (i.e. college/university); d) must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application e) Must have good moral character.”
Most of those who read and respond to these posts are descendents of immigrants, many of whom probably would not have met the requirements of the DREAM act, many of whom may have suffered the stereotyping and bigotry dished out to young people who have been assimilated into our culture. Advocates of the DREAM act should not give up, for their benefit and for ours.

This is a path to their becoming productive, tax-paying citizens. Certainly, it is a lengthy process as outlined in the Dream act itself.

Don't give up, Dreamers. Many of us, descendents of citizens ourselves, support you.

Posted by: castleb | December 20, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Illegal aliens can and do attend colleges and universities. What these illegal aliens want is to become an American citizen. Their rationale is "I am entitled to citizenship, scholarships, entitlements, because I live here." Republicans are not persuaded by such rationale. However, Democrats support entitlements but have no idea how to pay for them. No one has explained to me how the U.S. can continue charging foreign students higher tuition rates while offering resident rates to Illegal Alien Mexicans?

Posted by: windmill3 | December 20, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

If these votes were so historic, why didn't we hear much if anything about them specifically the Dream Act from the so called Main Stream Media? Only after the fact!

These phony journalists are in cahoots with the liberal socialist/subversives in Congress who are intent on selling out the sovereignty of this country to foreign nationals! They are traitors just as these turncoat politicians!

Posted by: TexRancher | December 20, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Dreams deferred? Try illegal tide partially diverted.

Posted by: kfstewart | December 20, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

The problem is, everyone supporting this bill is using the wrong strategy! You cannot approach a Republican representative (or their followers)with humanitarian reasoning. You have to make it about money (how is it going to benefit them)! As of now, illegals can get free food stamps, free WIC, free housing,free health care, free tuition,free schooling, etc. all without paying taxes. They also do not have to buy car insurance (the law in many states for citizens) because they are not citizens and therefore cannot be held to the law. You must show them that these are middle-class or poor people who would be obligated to pay taxes - that alone will get Republican votes (they love to get taxes from middle-class). Then show them that insurance companies will have more profits because becoming a citizen makes them obligated to follow laws for citizens. The biggest problem Repubs are having right now is not that someone would get something for free (illegals would be spending more as a citizen) but that it would cut into the profits of companies and individuals hiring illegals for less, since they would have to pay payroll taxes (SS and UE taxes) for them. As for America, it would be better to grant citizenship since they would not be as eligible for "free" stuff anymore because they could make a decent wage (if there were work). They could not get UE benefits because you have to pay into the plan before you get anything out - same thing goes for SS. It would also give Americans a more even field on employment - less illegals to hire cheaper than hiring a legal citizen. There are also provisions that you are not eligible if you have a criminal record and you must attend college or go into the military. I know Republicans don't really care about this (since they don't send their kids into the military anyway)but as an American you should. If you really care about the deficit - this would be lowered somewhat since there would be some coming in to counteract that going out - unemployment - see reasons above - and even crime - giving a person a chance to live here legally would, in itself, reduce crime. But, maybe your greatest fear of this bill is that there would be even more non-white American citizens than white. What I can't understand is why, based purely financially, illegals would even want to become legal given all that it would cost them. Could it possibly be that they love this country too? (Note: you can be culturally/racially proud and still be a good citizen!)

Posted by: Indy60 | December 20, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Thankfully the Dream Act was shot down....for now. We need to keep fighting to keep it down. As heart tugging as some of the stories may be, it is not our fault, nor our responsibility to reward the parents for their misdeeds. Let these children put the blame where it belongs....on their parents. Let them go back to the country of their birth and improve conditions there so that their people won't have to invade our country and consume our resources. As for the two senators from my state who voted for it, I say a pox on them both. They're both useless hacks.

Posted by: Lilycat11 | December 20, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

55 senators including our 2 from colorado sold their american citizens down the river by even voting for the so called dream act. Durbin has been pushing this garbage for 10 years long enough for all of these people to have filled our their forms and come here legally but it seems like everyone in this country now expects something for nothing and thats exactly what this was a free ride for millions at taxpayers expense and a continuing open door for more and more illegals to come across the border. If your going to write such a bill at least keep it within reason

Posted by: ren51 | December 20, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

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