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Mobilizing Voters for the DREAM Act

I’ve written a few times about lobbying efforts by supporters of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow some undocumented students and military service members who came to the U.S. as children to gain legal status. After efforts to add the DREAM Act to a defense bill failed, many of the student advocates of the act turned their attention to the elections in hopes of keeping anti-DREAM Act candidates out of office. It has been interesting to watch the students’ efforts to make the DREAM Act a mobilizing issue, although it may be tough to tell how much of a difference they make.

One of the major targets of the DREAM activists is Mark Kirk, who is running as the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk said he would vote against the DREAM Act, claiming it is “not the time” and Congress should focus on securing the border first. Giannoulias supports the DREAM Act. In response, undocumented supporters of the DREAM Act held sit-ins in Kirk’s campaign office, tried to meet with him and attempted to raise awareness about his views on the act.

Although the students are mostly non-citizens and cannot vote themselves, the idea is to attract attention to the fact Kirk opposes the legislation. The DREAM Act has widespread support among Latino voters, and in Illinois that could be influential: Latinos make up 15 percent of the population in the state.

Undocumented students have also staged rallies on college campuses across the country to raise awareness about the act. Both groups targeted by the DREAM activists, Latinos and young people, came out in full force to elect Democrats in 2008 but are expected to have lower turnout this year. Although some decrease in turnout is to be expected in midterm elections, DREAM Act supporters are attempting to motivate these groups to vote for candidates who support immigration reform.

Of course, the election winners might not have an impact on the DREAM Act at all. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would hold a vote on the DREAM Act during the lame duck session, so it’s possible the act could be passed before the next senators and congressmen get to Washington.

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