Congress takes up DREAM Act
Congress on Wednesday is expected to begin its fight over extending legal immigration status to foreign-born youngsters with a scheduled cloture vote on the DREAM Act in the Senate.
The bill, whose cloture vote is expected about 4 p.m. EST, is being heavily pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was reelected with a large Latino vote last month. He pledged to bring the measure to a vote, though it will likely fail because of strong opposition from Republicans to a what they have called a mass amnesty for illegal immigrants.
On the House side, debate on the measure is expected to begin late Wednesday afternoon, though a formal vote has yet to be scheduled.
The odds of passage in that chamber are better than in the Senate, but the outcome is unclear because some Democrats are expected to defect on the measure, meaning passage would require some Republican votes.
The DREAM Act – formally known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010 – is a priority for Democrats in the current lame-duck session because their influence will diminish in the new Congress, which begins in January. The GOP will take control of the House and expand its delegation in the Senate, making any move on immigration reform more difficult.
The Obama administration has supported the Democrats’ effort and, in a statement on Wednesday, repeated its strong endorsement. “While the broader immigration debate continues, the administration urges the Senate to take this important step and pass the Dream Act,” it said.
The legislation would give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants a chance at becoming legal. Those eligible include people brought to the United States before they were 16, have been in the United States for five years, have earned a high school degree and are attending college or are in the military.
Estimates of the number of those eligible vary from about 300,000 to as many as 1 million over the next decade.
Republicans call the bill “a mass amnesty” that rewards illegal immigrants. They oppose it on a variety of grounds, including national security, and in a memorandum distributed Wednesday they argued that it allows criminals convicted of fewer than three misdemeanor offenses to be legalized.
Democrats, particularly Latinos, a key bloc, have been strongly supporting the measure.
In a speech on the floor on Wednesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) argued for passage and said the bill was a test for lawmakers’ “tolerance, our fairness, our sense of justice.
“Those who will grade this test are watching. A generation of young people are hoping. Their futures are riding on whether we pass this test,” he said.