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Sens. Durbin and Graham introduce Dream Act of 2023. 'Dreamers' are 'cautiously optimistic'

DACA protest U.S. Capitol
Protesters march past the U.S. Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2017.

Lawmakers in Washington have again introduced the Dream Act. It’s a piece of legislation that could give almost 2 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a path to U.S. citizenship, including some 600,000 recipients of the Obama-era DACA program.

DACA provides deportation protection and a work permit for two years. But the program is embroiled in a court case that could end it entirely, and even if it survives, it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin re-introduced the Dream Act this month to change that. But it’s far from the first time. Jose Patiño, a DACA recipient in Phoenix, says he’s “cautiously optimistic.” He was 12 years old when it was first introduced in 2001.

“Twenty-three years, and we have not been successful, getting it passed in the House and Senate,” he said. “So you have to have some optimism, and believe that things can be different, even if it seems like they aren’t. That’s the work that we do.”

Patiño’s in his 30s now and works with younger undocumented students as the director of education and external affairs at the immigrant advocacy group, Aliento. He says despite the hurdles of the past, he’s ready to work with lawmakers again to get the 2023 version of the bill passed. He and other activists are meeting with Arizona’s congressional lawmakers and trying to galvanize support locally. 

“The biggest lesson we’re learning is that we have to do our part, that nobody else is going to care about this bill as much as we are, because we're the ones who are going to be impacted,” he said. “If this bill fails, they can still go home and eat their lunch and dinner and be OK, they still have a job. But we won’t. That’s the mentality we have to take, is that this has to be on us, even though that’s not how it’s supposed to be.”

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.