The immigration debate was briefly revived Wednesday in Congress as the Senate took up a proposal called the Dream Act to give the children of illegal immigrants a path to legal status. But while a majority of the Senate supported moving forward on the measure, backers were eight votes shy of the 60 they needed, and the measure couldn't move to final passage.
The Dream Act would have given a chance for eventual citizenship to an estimated 1.1 million young people who entered the U.S. when they were 15 or younger and have been here for at least five years. They would be required to finish two years of college, or serve two years in the military. Senate majority leader Harry Reid argued it would help children who illegally entered the U.S. through no fault of their own.
"Many of the children this bill addresses came here when they were very, very young," Reid said. "Many of them don't even remember their home countries. In fact, most of them don't speak the language of their home countries."
But opponents, many of whom blocked the comprehensive immigration bill last summer, argued that this measure was no better.
"It would put illegals ahead of legals," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). "It would make clear that even after our national debate and vote a few weeks ago, the Congress still does not get it, that the Congress is still determined to stiff the will of a decent majority of American citizens."
Sessions also read from a White House statement of policy that said President Bush opposed the measure because it was too narrow, and not the far-reaching immigration bill he wants.
Other opponents, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), charged that the Dream Act would provide back-door amnesty.
"I know we try to fast-track these things so people won't catch on," Inhofe said, "but I can assure you that all of America is awake on this one and they know what we'e doing. This is another amnesty bill and I believe that we should not proceed to it."
The measure's sponsor, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), said the beneficiaries of his bill had committed no crime, and only obeyed their parents when they decided to come to America.
"Give these kids a chance," Durbin said. "Don't take your anger out on illegal immigration on children who have nothing to say about this."
Despite Durbin's plea, just 52 senators voted to proceed to the bill. That included 12 Republicans. Eight Democrats voted against moving forward with the measure.
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed Senate Republicans for preventing, in her words, a critical first step to address our nation's broken immigration system.
There may be one more chance for immigration-related legislation in this Congress. Supporters of a measure allowing guest workers to enter the U.S. for agriculture-related jobs may try to attach their bill to a farm bill the Senate is expected to take up next week. But Wednesday's vote may indicate that prospects for that legislation are just as dim.