Immigrants lament Dream Act’s defeat

Passage would have offered many a path to citizenship

Deivid Ribeiro came to the United States when he was 7. He wants to attend MIT. Deivid Ribeiro came to the United States when he was 7. He wants to attend MIT. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / December 20, 2010

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When the Senate finished voting Saturday, Renata Teodoro found the tears flowing too freely for her to stay in the US Senate gallery, where decorum frowns on displays of emotion.

“It was extremely intense,’’ Teodoro said of the 55-41 vote that killed the Dream Act. The measure would have allowed immigrants like Teodoro, who was brought to the United States from Brazil by her parents when she was 6 years old, to slowly work toward citizenship under rules that advocates call rigorous.

“Your whole life is being voted on,’’ she said of the Saturday proceedings.

Teodoro said she was one of a couple of hundred college-age activists in Washington Saturday, mostly immigrants like Teodoro who find themselves in a gray legal area: unable to get American citizenship because they arrived here illegally as children and yet now so Americanized they see no future in their ancestral homelands.

“When the vote ended . . . a lot of us were crying,’’ Teodoro said by phone yesterday from Washington, where she has been since Friday, trying to build support among lawmakers. “It was extremely difficult not to express any emotions.’’

The legislation would have provided a route to legal status for immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16, have lived in the country for five years, graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree, and who joined the military or attend college.

Despite the loss, Teodoro and other Massachusetts activists supporting the Dream Act said yesterday they are more determined than ever to see the proposal become law, a view shared by President Obama, who vowed in a statement released after the vote to press for passage during the final two years of his term.

“It is disappointing that common sense did not prevail,’’ the president said in a statement posted on the White House website. “But my administration will not give up on the Dream Act or on the important business of fixing our broken immigration system.’’

But critics of the Dream Act and of national immigration policy also vowed to continue their opposition in the months and years ahead.

“Despite the individual stories that may be compelling, it’s better for the nation not to have something we consider a back-door amnesty,’’ said Joseph Ureneck of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform. “I think it would encourage millions of people to come to the United States illegally.’’

Ureneck argued that the Dream Act, if enacted, would provide an unwarranted benefit to parents who knew what they were doing was illegal, yet still decided to break immigration law and to bring their children with them as they did so.

“It’s a sad situation,’’ Ureneck said, adding that “the parents should take care of those children.’’

Ureneck said that despite the Republican gains in Congress, he will not sit back and relax. Immigration issues cross party lines, he said, and politicians in both parties can be unpredictable.

“We never know what the Congress will do,’’ he said. “It may seem the Dream Act is dead . . . but I don’t think anyone is going to rest on that assumption.’’

Ureneck said he was disappointed with Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who voted in support of the Dream Act, and that he approved of Senator Scott Brown, the state’s Republican Senator, who voted against it.

To Teodoro and Deivid Ribeiro, who was brought here from Brazil when he was 7 years old, Brown’s vote against the Dream Act means they will work to see him defeated at the polls in 2012.

“We’ve got to hold him accountable every step of the way,’’ said the 22-year-old Ribeiro, who lives in Brighton and wants to attend MIT and become a college physics professor. “We are going to remind people he didn’t vote for the Dream Act.’’

In an statement e-mailed to the Globe, Brown spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said the junior senator views the Dream Act as an unlawful amnesty.

“Senator Brown is opposed to illegal immigration and he is opposed to amnesty,’’ Gitcho said. “The Dream Act is back-door amnesty. Senator Brown believes reforms should be made to streamline the process for those who are seeking citizenship through the legal and proper channels.’’

Asked about the plans of Brown’s critics to fight him in 2012, Gitcho wrote, “There will be plenty of time for politics later, but right now Scott Brown is focused on his job representing the people of Massachusetts.’’

In a telephone interview, Ribeiro said he does not speak Portuguese, the main language of Brazil, and that if he returned there, he would have to start his educational journey anew.

He said the Dream Act would not mean automatic citizenship for him, but would give him the chance to qualify for scholarships and internships barred to him because of his uncertain immigration status.

“My dreams are bigger than just lying around and not doing anything,’’ he said. “I’m willing to fight, and I’m willing to wait a little longer. It’s the rest of my life that I’m fighting for.’’

John Ellement can be reached at