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The immigration debate was briefly revived in Congress today. The Senate took up a proposal to give the children of illegal immigrants a path to legal status. But like the far-reaching immigration measure that died last summer, this more limited bill, known as the DREAM Act, couldn't muster enough support.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: If any further evidence were needed that immigration is an all but dead issue in this Congress, today provided it. While the majority of the Senate supported moving forward on the DREAM Act, backers were eight votes shy of the 60 they needed, just as backers of the so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill came up short last June.

The DREAM Act would give 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, a chance for eventual citizenship. 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 came to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own.

HARRY REID: The DREAM Act recognizes that children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents. Many of the children this bill addresses come here when they were very, very young. Many don't even remember their home countries. In fact, most of them don't or speak the language of their home countries.

NAYLOR: But opponents, many of whom blocked the Comprehensive Immigration Bill last summer, argued this measure was no better.

Here's Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions.

JEFF SESSIONS: It would put illegals ahead of legals. It would make clear that even after our national debate and vote a few weeks ago, that Congress still does not get it, that the Congress is still determined to stiff the will of a decent majority of American citizens.

NAYLOR: Sessions also read from a White House statement of policy that President Bush opposed the measure because it was too narrow, not the far- reaching immigration bill he wants. Other opponents, including Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, charged the DREAM Act would provide backdoor amnesty.

JAMES INHOFE: When do we learn? We went through this thing before. People - I know we try to fast-track these things so people won't catch on, but I can assure you all of America is awake on this one. And they know exactly what we're doing. This is another amnesty bill and I believe that we should not proceed to it.

NAYLOR: But the measure's sponsor, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, said the beneficiaries of his bill had committed no crime and only obeyed their parents when they decided to come to America. Durbin said senators should look into the children's eyes.

DICK DURBIN: And what you'll see in their eyes is the same kind of hope for this country we want to see in our own children's eyes, to be doctors and nurses and teachers, engineers, to find cures for diseases, start businesses, the things that make America grow. Give these kids a chance. Don't take your anger out on illegal immigration on children who have nothing to say about this.

NAYLOR: But despite Durbin's plea, just 52 senators voted to proceed to the bill. That included 12 Republicans. But 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 today's vote may indicate prospects for that legislation are dim as well.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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