Sept. 26, 2007, 10:33PM
Senate temporarily sidelines immigration legalization bill
Democrats vow to pass measure aiding 1 million youths
By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT
Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The prospects for immediate Senate action on the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants, disappeared Wednesday amid Republican opposition.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged that senators would vote on the the measure, which is strongly opposed by anti-illegal immigration groups, before the Senate finishes its work for the year in mid-November.
"All who care about this matter should know that we will move to proceed to this matter before we leave here," he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had sought to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill. But Reid announced Wednesday night that Democrats were shelving the effort because of difficulties getting past legislative roadblocks.
"Unfortunately, some Republicans are opposed to this proposal and are unwilling to let us move forward on this bill," Reid said.
'Issue doesn't stop here'
Durbin and immigrant rights advocates were dismayed by the setback but vowed to find other means to pass the legislation, which they have sought since 2001.
"There is no question that this issue doesn't stop here," said Cecilia Muñoz, senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza. "The longer we wait, the more talented young people we close the door of opportunity to."
The bill — officially the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — would allow illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, and who have lived here at least five years, to receive conditional legal status if they have graduated from high school and have a clean record. After six years, they could become permanent legal residents if they serve in the U.S. military for at least two years or complete at least two years of college. As with most green card holders, they could apply for citizenship after five years.
The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that slightly more than 1 million high school graduates and children still in class could gain legal status under the legislation.
60 votes needed
With conservatives being barraged with calls, faxes and e-mails from anti-illegal immigration groups that view the DREAM Act as amnesty, some Republicans who supported the measure in the past have been reluctant to do so now. Durbin needed 60 votes to surmount an expected filibuster. Some Senate Republicans, including Texans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, objected to the measure being brought up on a defense bill.
"Putting extraneous things on this bill isn't helpful," Hutchison said.
Other Republicans aren't ready to revisit a debate that imploded in June when the Senate scuttled an overhaul endorsed by the White House that would have given most illegal immigrants a chance for legal status.
"People, I think, want to let the immigration thing cool off a bit before we jump back in," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who helped derail the comprehensive immigration bill.
Josh Bernstein, federal policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, predicted DREAM Act supporters eventually will prevail.
"The politics is right and the commitment is there," Bernstein said. "We're not giving up."
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