Dinorah Galvan wants a driver's license. And some basic human rights.
An undocumented immigrant, the 19-year-old college student arrived in the United States at the age of six. It's the country she calls home. But because of her status, she isn't allowed to work, receive financial assistance for education or even drive legally.
"It's hard to know that I'm not welcome here," Galvan said. "I don't want to live in the shadows anymore."
Galvan was one of several students who spoke out in support of the DREAM Act during a rally yesterday at Chabot College.
With the Senate expected to vote on the bill this week, DREAM Act supporters are holding rallies and events nationwide.
If passed, the DREAM Act would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children.
First introduced in 2001 and officially known as the Development, Relief, Education for Alien Minors Act, the bill would give undocumented students who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 an opportunity to gain legal status. The student must have a clean criminal record and must have graduated from high school and completed at least two years of military service or study at a university in order to be eligible.
A revised version of the Senate bill released this week (see attached document) extends the conditional residency period for beneficiaries from six to 10 years, in which time they would not be eligible for most forms of federal assistance. The new draft also lowers the maximum age of eligibility from 35 to 30 and creates a 13-year wait for citizenship.
In order to proceed, the bill needs 60 votes in its favor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who filed the revised bill Tuesday, face opposition from others in Congress who feel the legislation will disrupt immigration policy. When the revised bill was introduced, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, issued a statement against the bill.
"We have to have lawfulness in the immigration system before we start giving millions amnesty – as this bill will do," Sessions said. "This is not a good idea, it's not well written, it does far more than its supporters say, and it will create litigation in massive amounts that will disrupt the entire ability of immigration officials to do their jobs."
Currently, all 42 Senate Republicans are refusing to move on any legislative item until the Bush-era tax cut extension is addressed.
At the Chabot rally, organized by Congregations Organizing for Renewal, a faith-based network founded at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City and serving southern Alameda County, youth activists urged others to contact their representatives and ask that they vote in favor of the bill. Volunteers collected signatures for letters to Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Representatives Pete Stark and Barbara Lee.
The PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network, COR's parent group, is holding similar events throughout the country this week.
Among the DREAM Act supporters was Drew Nettinga, a member of the Eden United Church of Christ in Hayward and clergy leader with COR.
"The DREAM Act will strengthen the fabric of our national community," Nettinga said. "[Undocumented students] will take the education they worked hard for and apply it in whatever work they do and become productive citizens, which is what we want everyone one to do. It's what my ancestors came here for."
Many youth activists gave speeches during the rally.
"We grew up in this country thinking this was our country – all of us dreamers," said Ulises Toledo, 20, a student at Chabot, during the rally. "This is the only country we know, the only country we love. In order to give back, we need the DREAM Act."
Toledo and Galvan both sported graduation caps during the rally.
"It's to symbolize that we've graduated but can't do anything," Galvan, 20, said. "We followed the rules, we did what the country asked us to do – did good in school and graduated – but now our hands are tied."
According to Christopher Punongbayan, deputy director of the Asian Law Caucus, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year and are left in limbo, without access to financial assistance or the ability to work legally.
"That's what the DREAM Act is all about, for us to move forward and be able to live here. This is our country and this is the only place we know," Galvan said. "This is our home."