Senate to vote on controversial DREAM Act
Fanny Martinez is a 20-year-old honors student at Dominican University in River Forest, a volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter, and a student leader who is married to a U.S. soldier now in Afghanistan.
But the young Addison woman doesn't see a future for herself unless the U.S. Senate passes the DREAM Act this week a controversial piece of legislation that would allow illegal immigrants like her to apply for college loans and begin a path toward citizenship if they enroll in college or enlist in the military.
To qualify, a student would have had to enter the U.S. before age 16, lived in the U.S. for at least five years, graduated from a U.S. high school, been accepted to a two- or four-year college, kept a spotless criminal record and demonstrated "good moral character."
As many as 1.2 million undocumented residents could be eligible, said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Opponents of the DREAM Act view the legislation as an unwarranted attempt to provide amnesty to illegal residents who managed to sneak into the country and ignored the immigration process.
Among the local DREAM Act opponents are state Rep. Randy Ramey, a Republican from Carol Stream. He says he's open to the idea of a path to citizenship following two years of military service, but not for enrolling in college.
"Two years of education? After we've paid for their education already?" Ramey said. "There's no retribution for them to be in this country illegally. There has to be a payback or a consequence for those actions."
Martinez is among hundreds of thousands of students living in the United States illegally. She was 13 when she arrived in Chicago with her family seven years ago as they searched for a better life. Both of her parents are factory workers being paid minimum wage.
Because of her top grades at Fenton High School in Bensenville, Martinez earned a scholarship to Dominican. But she says her undocumented status will prevent her from working here legally or holding a professional job. She also lives in constant fear that, while driving, she'll get pulled over by police for some reason and end up being deported.
"My frustration is bigger than my fear," Martinez said. "There are so many opportunities out there, and we don't have access to those opportunities."
DREAM Act supporters say the legislation is a win-win because it doesn't cost the government anything and gives ambitious, hardworking young people who were brought here as children and know no other country the same opportunities as everyone else in the United States to become contributing members of the community and country.
"All they're asking for is an opportunity. Not a handout," said Yesenia Sanchez, lead community organizer with the P.A.S.O. West suburban Action Project in Melrose Park.
Sanchez said the "send them all back" argument regarding undocumented students would be the most costly and difficult solution, given that they want to stay here, work, pay taxes and contribute to the country.
Opponents also argue that the DREAM Act rewards undocumented residents for breaking the law and ultimately would take jobs away from Americans.
"American taxpayers have said no, no, no before to the DREAM Act," said Illinois Minuteman Project Director Rosanna Pulido of Chicago. "And now they don't say no. They say, 'Hell no.'"
The DREAM Act has the support of President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and many other lawmakers. Rallies have been held in Chicago and around the country to help get the legislation passed this year, before the new, more conservative Congress is seated.
Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, who will be sworn in today, does not support the DREAM Act right now, saying "this is not the time to do this" and that he believes the U.S. needs to secure its borders first.
The Senate vote is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
Palatine Township Democratic Committeewoman Sue Walton supports the DREAM Act, saying it takes "a small bite out of an enormous problem" of immigration reform.
"The time is right, and we're ready," she said.