Lobbying in Washington for the DREAM Act

July 13th, 2004

On July 13, 2004, Adele Welty and Alissa Rosenberg-Torres represented members of Peaceful Tomorrows in Washington, DC as they lobbied Congress in favor of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2003, proposed U.S. Senate Bill 4515, which would allow certain non-citizen students permanent residency.

Lobbying for Immigrants’ Rights
By Adele Welty

Yesterday was a very long day. We all got up at 4 am to get to get into Penn Station for a 6:30 am train to Washington. We got home last night at 11:30 pm. But I believe it was productive time spent. Alissa Rosenberg-Torres, one of our members; Alejandra Ruiz, a recent graduate (and valedictorian of her class) who is trying to get sponsors so she can go to college; NICE’s Partha Banerjee; and myself were in attendance. Josh Bernstein, Director of Federal Policy for the National Immigration Law Center, was our guide.

We started our rounds at the La Raza National Immigration Council. There was a monthly meeting in session when we arrived, attended by approximately 40 delegates from immigrant groups across the country such as the National Immigrant Solidarity Network, Action LA Coalition; National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; American Immigration Lawyers Association as well as the members of the National Immigration Forum. We listened to various reports on upcoming legislation and then we were asked to introduce ourselves and explain our mission in D.C. that day. We were greeted with the utmost enthusiasm and gratitude for having come to support the Dream Act and AgJOBS, legislation they had all been working on for over a year.

From La Raza, we drove to the Capitol for our first meeting with Juliann Andreen, legislative assistant to Senator Orin Hatch. We met him briefly. He is, (surprisingly, for a conservative Republican) the co-sponsor of the Dream Act because of a young boy in his home state of Utah who was abandoned by his mother and subsequently adopted. He ultimately became a very accomplished student. His story so touched the senator’s heart, he sponsored this bill. But Hatch is having enormous difficulty getting a vote on it, as conservatives in his own party are delaying action on the bill because it might very well pass with bi-partisan support.

Next we went to a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff: Esther Olavarria, General Council to Sen. Edward Kennedy held the meeting in the senator’s conference room; Susie Saavedra, Sen. Clinton’s assistant; and legislative staff of other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Joe Zogby; Jennifer Scott; Judy Golub; Janice Kaguyutan; Kate Tromble; and Suzanne Zweber. All of the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked us to visit those Senators, who were on the fence about supporting the Dream Act, to push them over to our side. They had a long list of senators they wanted us to visit, with whom we had no appointments nor did we have time. We promised to come back to Washington for the next session of Congress, in case it does not come to a vote this session.

The 9/11 Families for a Secure America had been there all day as well and visited some of the same offices we did. Our visit countered, I hope successfully, the group’s opposition to the legislation. I was careful to state to all we met, that we had no quarrel with the group, we simply disagreed with their point of view on this issue. I mentioned the wonderful work they have done on Skyscraper Safety Campaign and bringing to the public’s attention the defective radios Motorola supplied to the Fire Department.

Our next meeting was with Molly Logan, legislative correspondent to Joe Biden, who is still waivering about the Dream Act. I asked Ms. Logan to remind the senator of the passion he felt about the importance of education when he returned from Afghanistan and tried unsuccessfully, to get the congress to vote just $20,000,000 for education in Afghanistan. I asked that he apply the same reasoning to supporting the Dream Act.

We then met with the staff of Sen. Jay Rockefeller from W. Virginia and then with a staff person of Sen. Brent Hassert of Illinois. We were tired and they were polite and seemed basically unaware of what the legislation was about. Josh explained both the Dream Act and AgJobs, with concentration on the Dream Act and introduced Alejandra who told her story of being denied access to the college of her choice because of her legal status, even after growing up in this country and achieving exceptional grades with an extraordinary record of extra curricular activities. They were duly impressed and took our literature.

We next met with Julia Massimino, legislative counsel to Congressman HowardBerman, who joined us himself for a few moments. Both had met with the “other group” and were very pleased to have our letter with 20 names of 9/11 Families supporting the Dream Act. They agreed the letter was an important tool to pass around to constituents who had not made up their minds.

Last but not least, we met with Todd Thorpe, administrative assistant to Congressman Chris Cannon of Utah. By this time it was 6:30 pm and we talked while walking out of the building. He assured us he would pass our letter on to the congressman, was thankful 9/11 families had come also, “to offset the others”. We asked that he thank the congressman for his support of the Dream Act.

All in all, we were well received, but although the staff of the Congressional representatives are always accommodating, the chances are they will do nothing. I’m glad we were able to leave the letters with everyone so the other group does not imply solid 9/11 family opposition to the legislation. But we need to go back again in September during the next legislative session and set up appointments in advance with the actual representatives. Josh is also talking about possibly setting up something with the White House. Doubtful, but it is an election year.

–Adele Welty

Filed in: Adele Welty, Immigration & Civil Liberties

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