As the DREAM Act inches closer to reality, the idea of the initiative failing in the Senate becomes a nightmarish possibility for many undocumented immigrants.

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act would grant “conditional non-immigration” status for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, are currently 29 years old or younger, have resided in the U.S. for at least five years, successfully completed a law enforcement background check, graduated from high school, and completed two years of college or honorable military service.

Though the House passed the historic immigration bill by a 216-198 margin last week, Republicans in the Senate have been threatening to filibuster the contentious bill.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, 550,000 students in California could be eligible for legal status under the bill.

This includes Edward Esparaza, a 17-year-old Ventura County community college student. Esparaza’s parents immigrated to the area from Mexico when he was 6 months old and have lived an American life ever since.

“For someone like myself, who was told try, try and try harder, and some day it will all be worth it, it makes me sick,” wrote Esparaza in a recent college essay about the possibility of the Senate not passing the DREAM Act. Further along in the essay, as he imagined the opportunities the bill would present, Esparaza wrote, “I started to think how my life would forever change and, as I was walking back and forth from class to class, I started to get really excited about how I could finally join the United States Marine Corps and about how intense boot camp would be. Just the thought of being a Marine gave me the biggest adrenaline rush.”  

Esparaza’s father was deported five years ago. He lives with his mother and relies on public transportation since his status does not allow him to have a driver’s license.

It’s perplexing, he said, that he has been a part of the American system his whole life, wants to serve the country as a Marine, yet is legally not allowed to be an employee.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, does not approve of amnesty for undocumented immigrants and has voted against giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition, educational benefits, welfare and health care services.

“By granting adult illegal immigrants amnesty for attending college, it allows them to compete against American students for college admittance and jobs,” as Gallegly was recently quoted. “This is not only unfair to American students, but it would encourage more illegal immigrants to bring their children into the United States hoping they will receive amnesty in the future.”

But Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, voted in favor of the DREAM Act. She views the initiative as incentive for an immigrant’s productivity and contribution to American ideals. Additionally, she said passing the bill could possibly strengthen the economy.

“By providing a path to citizenship for undocumented young adults who attend college or serve in our military, we are recognizing the commitment they are making to this country, said Capps. “It simply does not make sense to deny young adults, brought to this country as minors by their parents, the opportunity to further their education or protect our country. In fact, the resulting increase in tax revenue generated by providing a path to citizenship for young adults will reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.”

A recent Gallup Poll shows that a solid majority of Americans support the DREAM Act.

At a recent Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) interfaith vigil, held Dec. 10 at the Ventura County Government Center, close to 40 participants — students, parents and advocates — joined  in solidarity and prayer to show their support for the DREAM act.

“These young people can have a college degree and still face the risk of being sent away. It makes no sense,” said Gordon Clint, a Newbury Park resident.

Juana, 23, has a college degree from a four-year university and has been raised in California since she was 5. While some of her siblings were born in the U.S., she was not and remains in the country without citizenship.

“We speak English and can blend into our society, but definitely a huge fear of being apprehended,” she said.

Juana has been instrumental in developing CLUE’s “Dreamers Without Borders” outreach program for undocumented students. The program currently has 80 students from four local high schools and three colleges.

“The fears we have and the accomplishments we want to achieve are similar,” she said. “Reality sets in after high school graduation. Options become limited. We all felt like we hit a brick wall. So together, we give hope and strength.”

Many DREAM Act supporters feel that the stall in the Senate may actually work out in their favor, as it will allow more time to attract the swing votes needed to make immigration reform a reality.    

shane@vcreporter.com