By Hyun Jae Cheon
The day has come. Senator Durbin, a long time champion of the DREAM Act, arranged the first-ever Senate hearing for the DREAM Act. I struggled to sleep last night.
To be a part of this historic hearing, I traveled from New Jersey to DC. From Union Station, I made my way to the Hart Senate Office Building, where the hearing was held, to meet our AAPI contingent, which included representation from National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), OCA, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). My heart was beating fast.
The long halls of the second floor were filled with students and supporters who came from all over the country. The spirit and courage of Dreamers didn’t die in the last Congressional session. I could feel the passion of students yearning to see the passage of the DREAM Act. As the line shifted forward, we realized that we were heading to the overflow room with live broadcasting of the hearing. With a capacity of 250 people, the main hearing room filled immediately and more than 150 people filled the overflow room.
The hearing started with an opening statement from Senator Durbin who narrated stories of DREAM students present in the hearing room and emphasized the urgency for passing the DREAM Act. The participation of Secretary of the Department of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano as witnesses attested to the huge support for this movement. They prepared great statements and answered questions professionally. Some critics of the bill blamed the federal government for not leading action early enough. Well, guess what? We are trying to work on it right now, before it gets even later. Let’s not be haunted by the past and look toward America’s future.
The second group of witnesses refreshingly surprised me. First, the testimony of a young, bright student name Ola Kaso from Michigan was very emotional for me in that it reminded me of when I was her age, just exiting my high school years. Ola, who was an excellent student in high school and plans on attending the University of Michigan this fall, was recently facing a deportation order. It reminded me of the situation that I and all DREAMers have faced, and are facing right now. Members of Congress need to acknowledge the urgency and cooperate with each other.
The second witness, Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock, was also full of surprises for me. Personally, I have read many articles and quotes of hers on the DREAM Act and the presence of young undocumented immigrants in the military. I’ve even sent a personal email to her about my situation (though I never got reply back) and admired her for what she has done for immigrant families and her thoughts on the role of the military, especially for those young undocumented immigrants who want to serve the country that they love. Mrs. Stock shared a great deal of her expertise and experience in her testimony for the DREAM Act.
Students gather in the hundreds to be a part of the first Senate hearing on the DREAM Act.
At the end of the day, I think it was a really emotional hearing for me and the DREAMers that attended. Let’s not deny the fact that a lot of our supporters were disappointed with the Republican filibuster in the Senate during the last Congressional session. Today blew wind into the sails of hope and courage of the DREAM movement and started to build momentum for engaging this Congress in our campaign. DREAMers have been working to get moving on their dreams for more than 10 years now. We tried harder and harder and we never gave up, and it’s now time to make the real change for those who want to make difference as Americans and contributing to the country and society they know as home.