But after NASA learned she was an illegal immigrant,it took away the Science,Engineering,Mathematics and Aerospace Academy scholarship. Within a couple of months Florentino,19,whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 10 years old,had to drop out of Lipscomb University in Nashville,Tenn.
This week she is back in Washington to push for passage of the Development,Relief and Education for Alien Minors,commonly known as the Dream Act.
It would create a path to citizenship for people who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years old. They would have to live in the U.S. continuously for five years,graduate from a U.S. high school or get a GED. Students would also have to attend college or serve in the U.S. military for two years. Those who have committed crimes wouldn't be eligible.
The bill has been around in one version or another for 10 years. The latest version was introduced this month.
The Senate and House could each take action on companion bills Wednesday night or Thursday.
The Senate debated a cloture motion late Wednesday afternoon. But it postponed to Thursday a vote on the cloture motion,which is a decision to debate the bill. Without 60 votes to begin debate,senators would neither debate nor vote on the bill.
Sen. Jeff Sessions,R-Ala.,said during the debate that the bill isn't about justice because it would detract from enforcing illegal immigration laws.
“This country needs to end the lawlessness,” he said.
Sessions said there is already a way for individuals to gain citizenship and serve in the military. He suggested the bill has loopholes because beneficiaries would be able to receive federal student loans,although they would not be eligible for federal Pell Grants.
The House began debate late Wednesday on the Rules Committee's proposal for how long the debate would last. Debate on the bill cannot start until the House adopts the rule for the bill.
Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez,both D-Ill.,said at a press conference Wednesday the vote was the only opportunity for the legislation to pass this year. Gutierrez said it was unlikely the bill would come up in the next two years because Republicans will hold a majority in the House and more seats in the Senate.
“This is the last opportunity to give important but limited justice,” Gutierrez said in Spanish to the media.
The White House,Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also publically endorsed the bill in the last week.
But not everyone is in favor.
Despite some changes,the new version of the bill still encourages illegal immigration,said Ira Mehlman,a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“It's still amnesty,and I think they have come up with four or five different versions because they had all these loopholes,” Mehlman said.
Florentino has been working for six years to see Wednesday's vote. She joined the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and began raising awareness for the Dream Act.
The group is one of several around the country pushing for the bill. Earlier this week Carlos Saavedra from United We Dream,the groups' umbrella organization,said he was confidant senators would vote to debate the Dream Act.
On Tuesday,Florentino and about 20 other students from Dream Act groups delivered fake checks to represent how much money students would bring to the U.S. economy if the bill passes. Florentino and her friend,Diana Villa,who is from Memphis,spent Tuesday visiting offices of senators,including Bob Corker,R-Tenn. They shared their stories and talked about the economic benefits of the bill.
The Congressional Budget Office said the Dream Act could produce $2.3 billion for the economy over the next 10 years,according to the White House website.
Raul Hiniojosa,an associate professor of Chicano studies at the University of California,Los Angeles,published a study last week that said the Dream Act could generate $1.4 trillion over 40 years.
Hinojosa said the study calculated average incomes for various careers based on the educational attainment of the bill's beneficiaries.
Nancy Meza,an illegal alien and a member of the Dream Team L.A.,helped with the study. Her parents brought her to the U.S. form Mexico when she was 2.
Meza,23,graduated from UCLA in May with a degree in Chicano studies but has yet to find a job. She transferred from a community college in Los Angeles after a family gave her a scholarship.
Many employers turn her away when they discover she is undocumented,Meza said.
“A lot of my peers are in my situation,” she said. “We have these college degrees,but we can't fully use our potential because we are stuck in this undocumented status.”
She and the Dream Team L.A. set up centers in Los Angeles to call senators as early as 4 a.m. – 7 a.m.,D.C. time – to ask them to vote for the Dream Act.
Meza said she hopes the bill will pass and help her stay in the U.S.,the country she said she has called home for 21 years.
“This really is a life-changing bill,” she said.