Lobbying for the Dream Act on Capitol Hill

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

Buoyed by the historic passage of DREAM in the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, and mindful that the prospects for a Senate vote are much more uncertain, several members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), including yours truly representing the UUA, decided to visit some key senators yesterday morning, before what was scheduled to be the 11 am vote on DREAM.

The DREAM Act would provide a pathway for earned citizenship to millions of undocumented young adults who were brought to this country by their parents as children and have since grown up in this country. The U.S. is their country in every way except for legal status.

The senate offices that we visited were those on this target list.

I won’t bore you by describing every office visit. And the few juicy tidbits about who is leaning in what direction, I’m not at liberty to say publicly. But there are two really strong impressions that I would like to share with you.

One was the fact that in every office we visited the phones were ringing off the hooks. As we waited in the seating area of various offices to see if a staffer could/would come out to see us, we could hear that the majority of the calls were about the DREAM Act. The poor folks answering the phones looked like they had been going at this rate for days. I almost felt sorry for them, but at the same time I know that this is democracy in action.

The phone call to your elected official is many times more powerful than the vote you cast in the ballot box in terms of influencing what becomes our national laws.

In the few cases where the receptionist’s ear was not glued to the phone, we asked what direction the calls were going in. ‘50/50’ or ‘pretty even’ was the answer.

With things so tight, every phone call that we make to stand on the side of love counts.

The second impression I had was when we walked into Senator Lugar’s office. As you may or may not know, Sen. Lugar of Indiana was one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act and had long been a proponent, but in these crazy partisan times, the Republican senator is now threatening to vote against his own bill.

A group of roughly a dozen young adults, many wearing colorful graduation mortar boards made out of construction paper, were gathered in a circle on the office floor, praying. They looked like they had been there for a while. They were so quiet and unobtrusive, and yet so persistent and impossible to ignore. I wish to God I had a camera then and could have shared the image with all of you. Their presence reminded me of why I am doing this work.

In truth, I was originally against the DREAM Act, having the same reservations that many Unitarian Universalists and other progressive people of faith have. From the provisions, it’s clear that one of the motivations for DREAM was to attract more recruits to the military. What changed my mind was the DREAM Act activists (or DREAMers, as they are called). These young women and men are publicly stating their undocumented status and going directly to elected officials to ask them to support their dream of being productive U.S. citizens.

They are willing to risk everything. How could I not support that?

In one of the last offices that we visited, we learned from the television tuned to C-SPAN that the Senate had tabled the vote on the DREAM Act scheduled for yesterday morning. The reason why Sen. Reid tabled his own bill is because there weren’t enough ‘YES’ votes in the senate to pass it.

The good news is that this gives us more time to change some senators’ minds.

So I am asking you to take action.

Based on what I saw yesterday – the calls coming into the Senate offices are so close, and the DREAMers need our help.

Call your senators – both of them – and urge them to support the DREAM Act. The Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.