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'We are fighting for our lives' with DREAM Act

By Gaby Pacheco, Special to CNN
  • Gaby Pacheco says DREAM Act is on hold after Senate vote, but it's far from dead
  • She says Harry Reid's support for act may be good politics for him, but it's also sincere
  • She calls on senators to introduce act as standalone bill to show their support
  • Pacheco: If no vote on act now, they'll demand one after midterms

Editor's note: Gaby Pacheco is an undocumented student who walked with three other immigrant students early this year on a "Trail of DREAMs" demonstration from Miami, Florida, to Washington, with the goal of educating people about their struggle as immigrant youth. She is an organizer with the online organizing group and has been an active voice among national youth leaders on behalf of passage of the DREAM Act.

(CNN) -- Yesterday was a tough day to be a DREAMer.

The Senate voted to not move on the defense authorization bill with the DREAM Act as one of the amendments. For most political commentators, the vote was a death sentence, and media outlets carried the obituaries with such headlines as: "DREAM Act dies with rejection of defense bill."

But there's a funny thing about dreams -- the only people who can kill them are the people who have them. And I am writing here to tell you, on behalf of the more than one million young people who would be affected by the DREAM Act, that its death is greatly exaggerated.

In the past month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has emerged as the greatest champion of the DREAM Act, which would allow young undocumented immigrants like me, who were brought here as children, a pathway to citizenship through college education or military service.

My own story? I've been in the United States since I was 7 years old in 1993, when I emigrated from Ecuador with my family and settled in Miami, Florida. I consider myself to be an all-American girl. I was part of the ROTC program during high school, and after graduation wanted to enlist in the Air Force. Because of my undocumented status, I could not. But I went to college and now hold a bachelor's degree in special education. I'm pursuing a master's in public policy. There are many others like me.

While there is little doubt that Reid's re-election fight plays into his priorities, I heard him speak on the Senate floor yesterday, and I am confident his support for DREAM is real.

I also know that the failure of the defense bill amendment does not mean that Reid has no cards left to play. That's why I and thousands of others -- including the national online group -- are calling on Reid to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor as a stand-alone bill.

There are those who say that a stand-alone bill is the wrong move. I think they are wrong, and here's why:

Several Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and my own Sen. George LeMieux (D-Florida), said they support DREAM, but voted against it because it was an amendment to a Defense bill.

If they are true to their word, then they should vote yes on a standalone bill, and DREAM should pass. If their promises are empty, then their bluff should be called, and they should be forced to explain themselves to the more than 70 percent of Americans who support this bill.

Several senators, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have previously been supporters of DREAM, and have only recently changed their positions with the midterm elections nearing. If their change of heart is because of pure political pandering, then the more times they are forced to vote against DREAM, the more their constituents will see them putting politics in front of the heartfelt needs of their constituents.

But make no mistake, the question is no longer whether the DREAM Act will pass, but when. I don't say that because I am some wide-eyed optimist. I say it because the young people fighting for DREAM are among the best and brightest of this great country, and their will is stronger than any legislative procedure.

Many of us have gotten arrested in legislative offices, camped out in front of the White House, and even some, like me, walked 1,500 miles from Miami to our nation's capital to educate people about our struggle as undocumented youth. We are a movement now, and we will not rest until we reach our goal.

If there is no vote on DREAM now, we will demand one when Congress returns after the elections. If no bill is introduced then, then we will keep coming back each year until our DREAM is realized. And every day that Congress fails us will just make us stronger.

Because in the end, what we are fighting for is something much bigger than what our opponents seek. For us, this is not about convincing Americans that we should "secure our borders" before we "grant immigration reform." Nor is it about affecting the elections in November.

We are fighting for the ability to be full fledged human beings in the only country we have known as home. In other words, when we fight for the DREAM Act, we are fighting for our lives. And when you're fighting for your life, you don't stop until you win.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gaby Pacheco.