NAPLES — Last week, 21-year-old Erika Grispino drove to Miami — to watch CSPAN.
Grispino, of Naples, joined about 30 of her friends and a few members of the national press to watch Congressional leaders in the House of Representatives debate, vote on, and pass H.R. 6497, otherwise known as the DREAM Act.
Every time the “Yay” column received another vote on the screen, Grispino said she and her friends would cheer.
“It was like a football game; It was like they were scoring goals,” Grispino said.
But the happiness may be short lived. The bill, which would give illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children a chance at legal status if they go to college or join the military, appears doomed in the Senate. Though senators are expected to vote on the bill this week, Democrats may not have enough votes to break a filibuster.
Rep. Connie Mack, who voted against the bill, said the government should focus on securing the border and other interior measures.
“What we shouldn’t be doing, however, is passing legislation that gives individuals who are living in this country illegally the same benefits provided to U.S. citizens,” Mack said in a written statement.
Stephanie DuBois, a spokesperson for Mack, said the majority of the constituents who contacted the representative’s offices about the DREAM Act were “in opposition.”
To be eligible under the current House version of the Development, Relief and Education (DREAM) Act, an immigrant must be considered a person of “good moral character” who has not been convicted of any criminal offenses, and must have earned a high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate, and must be younger than 30 years of age at the time of the bill’s enactment.
During a 10-year conditional status period, eligible immigrants must also complete a two-year college degree, two years of a 4-year degree, or serve two years of military service without dishonorable discharge, in order to earn legal permanent residency and later citizenship.
The new version of the bill prevents DREAM Act students from receiving federal grants, such as Pell grants. The students would only be allowed to receive loans or participate in work study programs. The act also gives each state the right to decide whether or not to grant DREAM Act beneficiaries with in-state tuition rates.
The National Immigration Law Center, a group that advocates for the rights of “low-income immigrants and their family members,” estimates that 192,000 potential DREAM beneficiaries live in Florida, which is about 9 percent of the nationwide total.
Collier County Schools does not keep any data on the number of undocumented students in its district because it does not require parents to disclose that information.
Grispino, a college student, is an Argentine native and was 14 years old when her mother brought her to the United States. An immigration judge granted them with a renewable “withholding of removal” status, which has allowed Grispino to legally work, attend college, and travel within the United States. But her status prevents her from being readmitted if she travels overseas.
Under current immigration laws, Grispino is also ineligible to become a resident or citizen, but if the DREAM Act passes, she and other illegal or undocumented immigrants would have a conditional pathway for citizenship.
“We need something right now, at least for a few people. This will allow us to drive and work,” Grispino said.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report on Dec. 2 about the Senate version of the DREAM Act, S. 3992, which estimated that there would be 1.1 million residents with conditional status by 2020 if the bill passes. The CBO report also estimates that those residents would decrease the federal deficit by $1.4 billion and increase revenue by $2.3 billion.
Florida’s senators are divided by party lines. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson co-sponsored the Senate’s version but Republican Sen. George LeMieux has expressed his opposition to the bill.
“I am very sympathetic to young people who entered our country illegally by no fault of their own, but I will not support consideration of the DREAM Act without addressing border security,” LeMieux said in a written statement.
Anne Brown, a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, said although the committee has not yet voted on the measure or taken a public stance as a body, its members have individually.
“Probably close to 100 percent oppose it,” Brown said.
Brown does not want the DREAM Act to pass because she has two grandchildren in college and stated that “it’s difficult enough for the ordinary Americans, the real Americans” to get an education.
“I feel that families have difficulty enough sending their own children to college today without having to send someone who isn’t a citizen,” she said.
In the meantime, Grispino, now a vocal activist in the DREAM Act movement, vows to continue to fight for a path to citizenship so her friends can “stand out from the shadows.”
“If this doesn’t pass, Florida has a youth-led immigrant movement that is structured and strong, and it’s getting stronger every day,” she said. “It just means that we are going to keep working and doing different things until we change the way (society) looks at us.”