Undocumented Students ‘In Limbo’ With Senate Failure To Pass DREAM Act

The long-debated DREAM Act to help undocumented students failed in a U.S. Senate vote Wednesday, likely ending prospects for the enactment of the measure this year.

The Senate fell eight votes short of a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes needed to approve the bill, which would create a path to legal status largely through education. Earlier this fall, sponsors had tried unsuccessfully to attach it to other legislation moving through the Senate chamber.

While the final vote was 52-44 for the bill, senators earlier had invoked rules requiring a 60-vote majority in the chamber.

“We were surprised but not shocked,” said Gabriel Pendas, president of the United States Student Association, which strongly supported the bill.

Formally known as The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the bill would offer a road to permanent legal status to youth who came to the United States at age 15 or younger. They would have to 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.

At various stages during the past year, the legislation also has included provisions that would make it easier for these undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at public colleges.

Undocumented students “are in limbo,” Pendas told Diverse after the vote. “This issue wasn’t about immigration. It was about access to education.”

Proponents of the bill had argued that current law unfairly penalized undocumented youth who came to the U.S. at their parents’ urging. But opponents, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, lobbied strongly against the bill claiming it would provide “amnesty to illegal aliens.”

Critics also claimed the criminal background provisions in the bill would prove ineffective because the government might waive certain actions, such as visa fraud and violation of student visas.

But supporters of the bill said it would have provided immediate help to 350,000 students who face an uncertain future due to lack of access or funding to higher education. “We’re very disappointed,” said Josh Bernstein, federal policy director at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C.

The House of Representatives has already signaled that it will not consider the DREAM Act this year, though it may take up the measure in 2008, according to Pendas.

Prior to this fall’s activity, provisions of the DREAM Act were attached to a comprehensive immigration bill. But this measure also failed in a high-profile vote in the summer.

Pendas said groups supporting the bill would take some time to assess next steps. “This was a chance to keep the American dream alive for all students, but they voted against it.”

–Charles Dervarics

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