12/18/2010 04:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Democracy for Some

Today our Democracy was expanded when the U.S. Senate voted to allow gay men and women to serve proudly and openly in defense of our nation. But today Illinois Senator Mark Kirk joined a Republican filibuster and, with a minority of 41 votes, also blocked the DREAM Act from coming to a vote in the Senate. This effectively killed the hopes of thousands of undocumented immigrant children to earn their legal status by going to college or joining the U.S. military to defend our nation.

The action by this minority of Republican senators was a disgraceful action of partisan gamesmanship. Polls show that the overwhelming majority in the U.S. support the DREAM Act as a reasonable first step in solving our broken immigration system. In Illinois 79% of voters polled in the most recent election supported the DREAM Act, including 67% of those who voted for Sen. Kirk. Former Republican Governor Edgar penned a public call of support in the Tribune. Twelve Illinois college and university presidents signed a public letter calling for passage of DREAM. The DREAM Act had passed the House of Representatives, and the majority of the 100 Senators would have voted to pass it. But the DREAM Act will not be called for a vote this Congress.

Instead, the actions of Senator Kirk and this Republican minority to block a vote on the DREAM Act mean that the hopes of thousands of young people have been crushed today. These DREAMERS were brought here as minors by their parents. They know no other country, and have been educated here with taxpayer dollars. But now they cannot get work legally, cannot drive legally, cannot get loans or grants to go to college, have no path to become legal in the U.S., and cannot even join our military. They live their lives under the constant threat of deportation. Today's action means that when Cindy graduates from the University of Chicago this spring she will not be able to become a school teacher. It means that Edward cannot use the business degree he earned from the University of Illinois last year. It means that Ernesto cannot fulfill his dream to join the U.S. Marines.

In addition Sen. Kirk and his colleagues cheapened our American Democracy today. A Democracy is not real when it prevents some 12 million illegal workers who contribute with their toil in our fields, our restaurants, and our hotels from having any way at all of becoming legal. We cannot say we live in a great Democracy when we tell children that we will punish them with exclusion and condemn them to the margins because of the decisions of their parents. This is un-Democratic. It is also an attack on the deepest call of our faith to love and charity, which is why the leaders of Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faiths were united in support of the DREAM Act.

During his recent successful Senatorial campaign Sen. Kirk promised to work for bi-partisan solutions. He went on Spanish language T.V. promising to support Latino families. Then today he voted against Latino and other immigrant children. This will not be forgotten.

Republicans have shown no willingness to support any measure to fix our broken immigration system, other than border security measures. Therefore President Obama should declare a moratorium on the deportation of DREAM students and immigrant workers who have committed no crime.

But our faith in our Democracy and our religious faith is why we understand that we will eventually win this battle, for both the DREAM students and for their parents. The history of our nation is one of a constant struggle for inclusion in this Democracy. We fought to include slaves, and then women, and now immigrant youth and their parents. Today, even while the DREAM Act was failing, a simultaneous filibuster was defeated and now gays will be able to openly defend our nation. Democracy marches forward.

Politically the next several years look grim for DREAM students and their parents. The same Republican leaders who fought to defeat the DREAM Act and immigration reform now step into positions of greater power. But these Republican leaders have seen the historic mobilizations by Latinos and immigrants for immigration reform this year. They have seen the determined and effective leadership of DREAM students. They saw how an angered Latino electorate preserved Democrats in power in the Senate. They have seen that public opinion overwhelmingly supports the DREAM Act and legalization for the parents of the DREAMERS.

Just as blacks and women and gays are now equal in the U.S., so too will undocumented immigrants be able to come out of the shadows. The situation for immigrants today looks bad and the opposition seems united and unmoving. But in recent history we have seen seemingly unmovable forces against freedom come crashing down. We have seen the end of the oppression of the Shah of Iran, of Apartheid in South Africa, of the Soviet Iron Curtain, and of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. The drive for freedom is strong, and the systematic exclusion of DREAM students and their parents from our American Democracy will come to a similar crashing end.

In Illinois we thank President Obama for his forceful support for the DREAM Act. We thank Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and Congressman Jan Schakowsky for their tireless leadership for the DREAM Act and for legalization for the DREAMERS parents. We thank Congressmen Quigley, Bean, Foster, Jackson, Rush, Davis, Hare, and Halvorson for their consistent support. But to Senator Mark Kirk; to the united Republican Congressional delegation, led by Congressman Peter Roskam; as well as to Democrat Congressman Dan Lipinski -- every one of whom worked to block bi-partisan solutions for immigration reform and to filibuster the DREAM Act -- we say: "Shame!"