Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
The Senate voted 59 to 40 Thursday to delay consideration of the DREAM Act, a bill that would give young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they complete two years of college or two years in the U.S. military. To qualify, they also must have arrived in the country before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States longer than five years.
Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he hoped to bring a modified version of the bill back to the Senate for consideration next week. "We remain in our usual state in the Senate -- a state of flux," Reid said.
The House passed its version Wednesday. But In the days before Senate Democrats voted to delay their bill, ominous signs indicated that it would likely fail to get the 60 votes necessary to procedurally move on to a debate and vote on final passage.
As Reid prepared to bring the bill to the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted what he called a "show vote" and criticized the Democrats for bringing it up during the lame-duck session. Last week, McConnell and his caucus promised to block consideration of any legislation, including the DREAM Act, until the Senate resolved questions over the expiring Bush tax cuts and funding of the federal government for the next year.
"It is perfectly clear by now that our friends on the other side of the aisle are more interested in pleasing special interest groups than in addressing our nation's jobs crisis," McConnell said. "Once again, they're insisting that the Senate spend its last remaining days before the end of the session voting on a liberal grab bag of proposals that are designed to fail."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the sponsor of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), described it as a compassionate solution for children of illegal immigrants who never made the choice on their own to come to the United States.
"These children have been raised in America, they grew up in this country," Durbin said. "They are the valedictorians in their classes, the presidents, the stars of their sports teams and the people who win the college bowls. And they are undocumented, and they have no country, and they have no place to go... Give these young people a chance."
But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees immigration policy, opposed the bill and called it unrestricted amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.
"Ending the lawlessness at our borders is the first thing that must be done and at some point after that we can wrestle with what to do about people who are here illegally," Sessions said. "Otherwise, we are surrendering to lawlessness."
Sessions also painted a different picture of the immigrant community than Durbin, warning that the DREAM Act would allow repeat criminal offenders and gang members to apply for the program and pointing out that the law would not be restricted to children, but only to people who were brought to the United States as children. He also warned that applicants could easily obtain fake college diplomas to qualify for citizenship.
But Durbin dismissed Sessions' predictions about phony diplomas and said the bill he drafted would disqualify felons and people convicted of voter fraud, marriage fraud or visa fraud.
Durbin first introduced the DREAM Act 10 years ago. As Reid campaigned for re-election in Nevada, he promised immigration activists that he would bring it to the floor for a vote this year.