Equity & Diversity

Senate Effectively Kills DREAM Act for Lame-Duck Session

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 18, 2010 3 min read
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In a procedural vote today, the U.S. Senate effectively killed the chances of the DREAM Act passing during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

The Senate lacked five of the 60 votes it needed for further debate and consideration of the measure, which was designed to give undocumented students who have graduated from U.S. schools a path to legalization. The 55-41 vote in favor of consideration of the DREAM Act, announced shortly after 11:30 a.m., fell largely along party lines, with all but a few Democrats voting in favor and all but a few Republicans voting against it.

Last week, senators had already voted not to consider a version of the DREAM Act that had been introduced in the Senate. Today’s procedural vote was on whether to consider a version that the House approved with a 216-198 vote on Dec. 8. The House version had only a few nuanced differences from the Senate version, such as fees for students applying for the benefits of the act.

Advocates of the DREAM Act considered its chances of passing during the lame-duck session to be much better than they will be in January, when Democrats give up control of the House to Republicans. While the DREAM Act had bipartisan support when it was first introduced in 2001, lately many more Democrats than Republicans have backed it.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, would provide a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates who meet certain criteria and complete two years of college or military service. To be eligible, the graduates would have to have arrived in the United States before age 16 and be no older than 30. They also would have to have lived in this country for five continuous years and have no criminal record.

In a debate before the procedural vote, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued that “this bill, at its fundamental core, is a reward for illegal activity.”

Sessions criticized the federal government for not preventing immigrants from illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He characterized undocumented immigrants as threatening the lives and well-being of U.S. citizens, such as ranchers who live near the border. “Before we can consider regular status for anyone living here illegally, we must secure the borders first,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed Sessions’ views, saying lawmakers need to “secure our borders before we do anything else.” He added that any legalization plan for undocumented immigrants should be part of big-picture immigration reform, not considered as a stand-alone bill. He accused lawmakers who supported the DREAM Act of bringing it to the Senate only for political reasons. “You care more about politics than you do about governing the country,” he contended.

In arguing for passage of the DREAM Act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., contended that the measure was not “a free pass” for undocumented youths but rather required them to “prove themselves.”

Feinstein urged her colleagues to vote for the act because without it, “these young people are left with a dead end.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a sponsor of the DREAM Act who has advocated for the measure for a decade, showed lawmakers photos of four undocumented youths who are high-achievers and summarized their stories. Two of them, he said, want to serve in the U.S. military and are unable to do so because of their undocumented status. Durbin said that his support of the act is “not a political stunt,” and he called on his “colleagues on both sides of the aisle to summon the courage to vote for justice” by backing the act.

According to tweets on Twitter from advocates of the DREAM Act, youths dressed in caps and gowns, some who would presumably have benefited from the act, kept watch on the Senate debate and procedural vote from the Senate visitors’ gallery.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.