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Rep. Luis Gutierrez Headshot

Make This a DREAM Act Christmas

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This holiday season in Congress, the Democrats have provided the Republicans with a gift-wrapped opportunity to change their tune on the immigration issue. By bringing the DREAM Act to the floor in both chambers, Democrats have offered up a most sympathetic and deserving cohort of young people for protection from deportation. By staying in school or serving in the military, paying fees and keeping a clean record for more than a decade, certain young people who have already been in the U.S. for 5-29 years could have a chance at legal status and eventually citizenship. Even the most ardent opponents of immigration reform find it hard to stand against these high school graduates, valedictorians, student government leaders, and cheerleaders with American accents, a desire to serve their country, and deep, deep roots in America.

And yet when this legislative olive branch was voted on in the House, only eight Republicans grasped for it. Eight Republicans joined 208 Democrats in approving the measure and moving it towards the Senate. When given the choice between naughty and nice this Christmas, all but eight Republicans -- and 38 Democrats -- chose to be on the naughty list.

Now the Republicans in the Senate face a similar choice. They and a few wavering Democrats have a chance to pick which side of this issue and which side of history they want to defend and with whom they want to stand.

I clearly want them to stand on the side of the U.S. military, university presidents, educators, law enforcement and the Congressional Budget Office. I want Senators to stand on my side along with every major editorial page and the 60-plus percent of the American people who support the DREAM Act in every poll I have read. Most importantly, I want Republicans in the Senate -- and Democrats -- to stand with a generation of young immigrants and the children of immigrants who are struggling to find their place in American history.

And I don't mean just the 800,000 DREAMers themselves who would benefit directly from the bill. I want every Senator to think about the millions of other immigrant and non-immigrant young people who have fought for the bill. Being a graying student activist myself, I see a delightful -- and at times challenging -- spark of hope in the spirit of the young people fighting for this bill, whether it would help them directly or not. It is a remarkable counter-example to the stereotype of Facebook and Game Boy addicted youth who are thought to be apathetic about their nation, her laws, and society at large.

This generation of activists will not soon forget how legislators talked about the DREAM Act and voted on it when given a chance.

With or without the DREAM Act, one important fact will not change about this group. Every year, an estimated 500,000 Latino U.S. citizens turn 18 and therefore become eligible to vote. Add the children and grandchildren of immigrants who identify strongly with their family's immigrant experience and add the naturalized immigrant adults and you have a sizable group of new voters waiting in the wings and stepping up to the ballot box with each passing year. A million more eligible young Latino voters will be in play by the time votes are cast in 2012. In every state of the union, they are becoming the newest voting constituents of every Senator and Congressman. Do you think they will forget who voted for and against the DREAM Act in two years? What about the two million newly eligible voters in four years? Believe me when I tell you they will remember who fought for -- and against -- deporting their sisters, cousins, best friends, boyfriends, and teammates.

That's why you have seen Senators hedging their bets. Senators, especially Republicans that have supported the DREAM Act in the past, have concocted other reasons to stand against the hopes and aspirations of young immigrants. They want to vote on tax cuts first, they said in a letter. Check. They don't want it considered as part of a Defense Bill, even if it mandates a larger recruiting pool. Check. They say a lame duck session is not the right venue for legislating, even after wearing out the sole on a dozen pairs of shoes dragging their feet for two years. The excuses are melting away faster than a DC snowstorm.

And into the vacuum, the hardest core activists opposing the DREAM Act have the floor and present the face of the Republican Party to these voters on the immigration issue. They lump all immigrants in with criminals, keep pointing to Mexico and the border even though the DREAM Act is unrelated, and make wildly inaccurate claims -- sometimes on the floor of the House and Senate -- to stir up opposition to the bill.

Dear Senators, stand with those immigration opponents who defend the deportations and stonewall the DREAM Act if you want to, but you better enjoy it while you can. This generation of immigrants -- like every generation before them in U.S. history -- will become citizens and voters eventually. In the meantime, their neighbors, friends, and families are already citizens and voters and more are reaching voting age each day. They are writing down their naughty and nice lists this Christmas in pen, not pencil, and will remember what you give them this Christmas for a very, very long time.