"Hey, Feinstein, what do you say? Make my dreams come true today!" undocumented students and their supporters chanted at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's San Francisco office today, asking her to publicly support legislation that would help young people brought to the U.S. by immigrant parents become citizens.
Despite the group's efforts to raise awareness and support, Republican opposition blocked the DREAM Act during a Senate vote today after Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, tried to attach it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, a defense funding measure.
The legislation - formally the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act - would give qualified undocumented youth the opportunity to gain U.S. citizenship, allowing them to join the military or get jobs that are supported by college degrees.
Dozens of undocumented college students attended today's rally at 1 Post St., and many spoke using pseudonyms or giving only their first names to protect themselves.
Their stories all mirrored the same frustration.
"It's like a ton of bricks hitting you," said 21-year-old Daniel Godinez, who was brought to Half Moon Bay from Mexico at age 2. "You're not like everyone else. You're not part of the system."
Godinez's parents brought him and his older sister to the U.S. because they wanted to provide better opportunities for the sister, who has physical and mental disabilities.
Godinez excelled at Half Moon Bay High School, and upon graduation in 2007, he was accepted to San Jose State University, where he is a junior studying political science.
Godinez said he most felt the claustrophobia of being an undocumented citizen when he was blocked from joining a class trip to Washington, D.C., at age 15, and when his friends started getting their driver's licenses -- something undocumented youths can only dream of.
Godinez said that when he really needs to get somewhere, he is sometimes forced to break the law and hope he doesn't get pulled over.
Gabe, a 29-year-old graduate student who was brought to the U.S. at age 7, said that despite having a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, he is limited to working jobs that don't require proof of U.S. citizenship.
"I'm doing differential equations in my head while I'm cutting grass," the San Jose State University student said.
Bill Ong Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco who spoke today, said some of his best undergraduate and law students over the past 35 years have been undocumented.
"They're inspiring," he said.
San Francisco State University junior "Danielle P." was brought to California from Mexico when she was 11 months old.
She said that although she considers herself American, she has never "publicly outted" herself as an undocumented immigrant since she became aware of her status in the third grade.
Danielle, 20, said she grew up "living in fear" while her three younger brothers - all natural-born citizens - are able to take advantage of the privileges she is fighting to earn through the DREAM Act.
"It's hard to reconcile that, but it's what keeps me grounded and motivated to succeed and pursue my dreams," she said.
When news came today of the DREAM Act falling just four votes shy of Senate advancement, "We were all hurt," Godinez said.
But undocumented students are used to facing obstacles, he said, adding that today was "only the beginning" of the fight.
"When all the doors are shut it gives us more of a wanting to prove to people that we can make a change, that we want to make a change," he said.