Legislation to help illegal immigrant students access higher education suffered another setback in the Senate last week. But the Senate’s top Democrat has pledged an up-or-down vote on the measure by mid-November.
Senate Democratic leaders last week sought to revive the DREAM Act, which would give students a path to legal status largely through education. Sponsors tried to attach it to a defense bill, but the effort failed when it was unclear whether the 100-member chamber could provide the 60 votes needed to break any filibuster.
“There is majority support,” says Josh Bernstein, federal policy director at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C. “The question is whether there are 60 votes,” he told Diverse.
Under the DREAM Act, youth who came to the U.S. at age 15 or younger would have an opportunity for permanent legal residence if they earn a high school diploma, pass a criminal background check and attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. They also must reside in the United States for at least five years before seeking such status.
Another provision in the original bill would make it easier for these students to receive in-state tuition at public colleges. However, sponsors dropped that idea — at least temporarily — last week because it is “confusing” given various state policies on the issue, Bernstein says.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate’s deputy Democratic leader, sought to add the DREAM Act as an amendment to a defense bill moving through the chamber. Seeking more support, Durbin removed the in-state tuition provision and limited the DREAM Act’s application to adults 30 and under. Yet neither move appeared sufficient to ensure a 60-vote majority in the chamber.
Despite the defeat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised to bring the measure back for a vote by mid-November.
“We have a commitment to the young people to do this,” he said, pledging to vote on the matter “before we leave here” for the year.
But a critic of the DREAM Act says it is unlikely Congress can muster the support to pass the bill.
“It’s an amnesty plan disguised as an education initiative,” says Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Dane says his group conducted about 60 interviews with talk-radio hosts in recent weeks about the issue, and many critics responded by calling members of Congress. He says conservatives were able to reactivate a coalition that helped defeat a comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this year.
“The outrage was that the amnesty crowd is trying to get piecemeal amnesty,” he says.
But Reid said he will bring the bill back because it sets a clear policy to help immigrant youth improve their job and career prospects. “The DREAM Act recognizes that children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents,” he said. Without the bill, he added, “their future is very limited.”
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