Commentary

The U.S. Senate: Where dreams go to die

December 5, 2022 8:00 am

Dreamers demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

I write today knowing full well that almost any effort we make to give Dreamers a shot at legal, permanent status — and, for that matter, all the efforts we’ve made so far — is futile because no immigration bill will pass the U.S. Senate during this lame duck session. 

The U.S. House passed in March 2021 the Dream and Promise Act, which would grant folks like me who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) a pathway to legal, permanent status. A similar bill has passed twice under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and continues to be introduced in the Senate, where passing anything — especially on an issue like immigration — requires 60 votes instead of a simple majority. 

Being a Minnesotan is weird when it comes to politics. At least I don’t live in Florida, right? My two senators are Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith. I know they likely will vote and support things I align with. The thing is that rarely something so personal for me gets the attention it needs and deserves. I know Klobuchar and Smith support relief for DREAMers. But the last time Smith said anything about us in print was back in March 2021; she signed on to a letter June 2021

I am that Minnesotan who has learned to be a good “citizen,” and is engaged in the direction his communities must take. I know who my elected officials are, participate in issue campaigns, and I contact public officials from time to time. Of course, I have contacted Klobuchar and Smith and requested meetings. So far: no answer from either.

The Senate passed a mediocre, yet important bill protecting interracial and same-sex marriage. I am thankful for that, and many other good policies that have been passed under President Joe Biden.

When it comes to immigration, however, the Senate continues to fail us. 

I remember clearly the times before DACA. We could not attend public colleges and universities or obtain public financial aid. We could not legally work. Going to college was unattainable for many of us. I was able to attend Augsburg University because they are a private university and had friendly policies towards undocumented students. On Dec. 8, 2010, the U.S. House passed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), which has been introduced in Congress since 2001. (This is why we are called DREAMers). I was ecstatic because I thought the Senate would soon follow given that Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate after Sen. Al Franken’s win over Senator Norm Coleman. Earlier that year they passed the Affordable Care Act

On December 18, 2010 I was doing a presentation in Hopkins for students and families about access to higher education for immigrant youth as part of our work with NAVIGATE MN, now Unidos MN. My mom called me to tell me the Senate could not overcome the filibuster, and the bill died. On my way home, I cried because I was angry and felt defeated. 

Mind you, both of my senators, Klobuchar and Franken, voted to overcome the darn filibuster. The vote was 55 to 41, with three Republicans voting for and five Democrats voting against. 

I wrote in July 2012 that given that DACA was announced the month before by President Barack Obama — once known as the Deporter in Chief — in response to immigrant youth taking over his campaign offices, no president in the future would go after DACA or immigrant youth. I was so wrong.

And that is what I have come to understand about politics. Something else always comes before you, even if you tried your best. Politics can be corruptive and deceptive. Our power must always give way for something else. The arc of moral justice is so darn long. People continue to call us “undocumented youth.” We will be undocumented elders by the time we obtain legal status.

DACA has given me many opportunities, including visiting Mexico after many years of not seeing my older sisters and grandmother. I am also in my last year of law school because I am eligible to work legally, which allows me to pay out of pocket as I go. I was able to buy a home and adopt a crazy dog.

I am saddened that Democrats will fail us given that this was another chance to make something meaningful happen, but they floundered. Again. 

I have not lost hope. I never do. We will continue to build power in our communities. We will continue to show up to help elect people who have most of our values in mind and help avoid a catastrophe like we did this past election. 

But it is frustrating to watch time and time again as opportunities fly by when the solutions feel within reach.

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Juventino Meza
Juventino Meza

Juventino Meza is an undocumented student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law studying Native American law and tribal sovereignty and health care compliance. He is a founding member of NAVIGATE MN, (now Unidos MN). He was the 2013 recipient of the Ohtli Award, the Mexican government’s highest recognition for a civilian Mexican living outside Mexico, and recipient of the 2013 Immigrant of Distinction Award from the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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