WASHINGTON -- As the Senate passed the immigration reform bill, a protester dressed in a blue cap and graduation gown stood up in the visitor gallery and chanted, “Si se puede!”
Other activists dressed in turquoise and orange shirts joined in with the chant, which in English means, “Yes we can!” Some chanted, “Yes we can” in English as well.
Maria Cabello, who was sitting nearby, said she was thinking of her parents, who emigrated with her from Mexico to Texas 10 years ago.
“They’re undocumented,” said Cabello, who works with the United We Dream advocacy group. “Now they’re one step closer to getting citizenship, and my mom might get to see her parents again.”
Cabello benefited from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy in October, which grants two-year deportation deferrals and work permits for immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
She said despite her disapproval of several amendments in the Senate bill, which passed 68 to 32, she has hopes for the House vote.
The bill calls for $46 billion in extra border security and also provides a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.
“The Senate bill had a lot of outrageous amendments,” she said. “So we’ll be pushing harder so the House knows that we will not support a bill blocking our pathway to citizenship, that keeps our families from being together, or that keeps militarizing our border.”
Adrienne DerVartanian of the advocacy group Farmworker Justice said she was pleased with the vote, particularly with the inclusion of an amendment affecting agricultural workers.
“We don’t think the bill is perfect,” she said. “There were concessions, compromises made. We’re looking forward to the next step -- it’s important that it addresses our agricultural system, which is broken.”
Melvin Alvarez of Alexandria, Va., said he was a bit scared of the bill’s prospects.
“My family and I are legal residents, and I am truly lucky,” said Alvarez, who is originally from Honduras. “But I go to high school with a lot of international students who are much brighter than me, and I could go on to higher education and they couldn’t. It’s just that paper that makes the difference.”
Alvarez said the deferred deportation program allowed his friends to go back to school, and that if the House passed the Senate bill, “it will let them keep being able to do so.”
For Alberto Morales, born in Chicago and the son of immigrants from Mexico, it was a historic moment.
“Bipartisanship is truly rare in this Congress, and to see such leadership was fantastic, especially from the Republican leadership that stepped up to the plate,” said Morales, a student at Georgetown University. Fourteen Republican senators supported the bill.