The DREAM Act got a last-minute reprieve on the Senate floor last night as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill and gave its advocates more time to whip up the votes it still needs to break a Republican filibuster.
The moment involved a bit of the Senate's signature procedural drama. A motion to end debate--which requires 60 votes that haven't yet materialized--was scheduled to take place just hours after the House made history Wednesday night, passing the decade-old DREAM Act for the first time in either chamber. But 15 minutes after the 11 a.m. "cloture" vote was supposed to begin, Reid instead called for a vote to again table the bill.
That motion was approved, 59 to 40, staving off what would have been an all but sure loss for the DREAM Act in the Senate. The move allows the Senate to vote on the House version, thereby streamlining the process if the Senate is successful. It also removes the hurdle of Republicans' refusal to deal with any other legislation until their tax-cut deal with Obama passes. Advocates called it a gift.
"This next five, six days is like a gift for Christmas," said Carlos Saavedra of United We DREAM. "We are going to put so much pressure on every single senator that is standing between ourselves and our dreams. Every single one is going to feel an immense amount of pressure."
Saavedra sounded positively giddy, even as Beltway press declared the bill dead.
Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin, for their part, said they plan to bring up the House-approved version of the DREAM Act before the end of the year. "The Senate will move to the House-passed version of the bill later this month," Reid and Durbin said in a joint statement. "In the mean time, we will work with House leaders and the Administration to ensure that the DREAM Act will be law by the end of the year."
"The DREAM Act is not a symbolic vote," said Durbin and Reid in their statement. "We owe it to the young men and women whose lives will be affected by this bill, and to the country which needs their service in the military and their skills in building our economy, to honestly address this issue. Members on both sides of the aisle need to ask themselves if we can afford to say to these young men and women there is no place in America for you."
The DREAM Act would put undocumented youth who clear a bevy of hurdles on a 13-year path to citizenship if they committed two years to the military or higher education. The bill was first introduced in 2001 and has since gone through many revisions. Under the most recent versions of the DREAM Act, undocumented youth have been in the country for more than five years, entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and are presently under 30 would qualify.
Reid and Durbin, longtime DREAM Act champions, say the bill would immediately benefit "tens of thousands" of undocumented immigrants. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House-approved bill would reduce the national deficit by $2.2 billion over the next decade.
Still, the bill faces stiff opposition in the Senate from a vocal set of Republicans who have said it would invite a flood of new immigrants and benefit millions of people who, as House Republican Congressman Steve King said Wednesday night, "would be rewarded with the objective of their crime."
Republican opposition to the DREAM Act has relied mostly on fear-mongering, spinning elaborate nightmare scenarios where American citizens lose their privileges to immigrants.
"Any alien who has a pending application under the DREAM Act cannot be removed. If someone comes in, they can be 79 years old, or 99 years old," King incorrectly asserted yesterday on the House floor. It's one of the more bizarre lies about the DREAM Act. "And they can allege that they're younger than that, and file an application under the DREAM Act. And now we have to go forward and adjudicate and determine if you really weren't 16 when you came into America."
Republicans have extrapolated costs and criticized provisions that aren't actually in the DREAM Act; Sen. Jeff Sessions estimates the bill's cost at something closer to $5 billion. he includes the cost of putting imaginary millions more on welfare and larger numbers in public schools.
The DREAM Act needs at least a half dozen Republican votes, and appears to have several fewer than that right now. DREAM Act advocates said they'll use the next few days to press hard against senators who may not have taken the DREAM Act seriously before the House passage of the bill.
"We are within striking distance," insisted Tyler Moran with the National Immigration Law Center, which supports the bill.
They also said that they were willing to address concerns that senators might have about the DREAM act, indicating that even further compromises to the DREAM Act may be on the horizon.
"Approval of the DREAM Act in the House of Representatives was a historic and important step," said the White House in a statement. "We agree with the Senate leadership's decision to table the version under consideration in that chamber in favor of taking up the version approved in the House."
"The President looks forward to seeing the Senate approve it so that he can sign it into law."